Coming to America: From Northern Germany to the “New World”

In the 19th and 20th century, millions of people left Europe via the North German ports of Hamburg and Bremen respectively Bremerhaven in search of a better life in the “New World”, mostly the USA.

sculpture called Die Auswanderer, emigrants, is standing on the shore of the river Weser and remembers the seven million passing through the port of Bremerhaven.

This sculpture called Die Auswanderer, emigrants, is standing on the shore of the river Weser and remembers the seven million passing through the port of Bremerhaven. Actually, this statue by Frank Varga was donated by the German-American Memorial Association.

As a counterpart to the arrival halls in Ellis Island, several museums in German cities remember the adventurous journeys of the emigrants in transit.

this way to read the whole story >>>

most instagrammable – till death do us part

I love good photography. That’s why I hate Instagram.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Telliskivi Tallinn Estonia Mural
You’d be surprised on how many pictures death is present – even though not always visible.

It deteriorates the art of photography and makes the world a dangerous – and endangered – place. Till death do us part.

Picture Perfect

“Would you mind taking my picture?” – one of the few disadvantages when travelling solo was that I used to depend on the kindness of strangers. However, I have two pictures of myself from a three week trip to the island of Bali. Just an example.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Nuwara Eliya Sri Lanka
Being the only guest on a hotel terrace having coffee in the rain – I agreed to have my picture taken.

I could have many more: Often when people see me taking pictures of an attraction they ask if I want a picture of me with it. I practically always decline.
Why?
Why should I have a picture of a beautiful building with me standing in front of it?
Will the building become prettier with me as a prop?
Will it not be there if I don’t point at it?
Or do I need a picture that proves that I was actually standing in front of this building?
Honestly, I see no reason why I need to be on a picture of a tourist attraction.

As a matter of fact, before I became a blogger, I travelled without a camera. New York? Not one picture. Paris? No pix. London, Berlin…I stayed pictureless.
I travelled by myself.
I don’t need a picture of me to know what I look like; I have mirrors.
I know what the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower look like – and you and all of my friends do, too. I don’t see a reason to take a picture of these iconic buildings.
And in case I forget what they are like, there are trizillions of professional photographers who already took pictures of them – mostly from a far more interesting angle, so I’m good.

Souvenirs’n’Memories?
I carried them in my brain. In my heart. In my soul.
They’ve been there for decades now – beautiful and safe.

However, since many others do not share my oblivion to amateur photography, in 2010, God gave us Instagram. Since then, 800 million Instagrammers worldwide are uploading 95 million photos and videos every day.

What can I say, I’m one of them: Two years ago, I started this blog and since people who know better than me told me to, I halfheartedly got me an Instagram-account.

Picture Overdose

“Would you mind taking my picture?” – with the invention of phone cameras and eventually the notorious selfie-sticks, this question becomes obsolete.
Today, photography is available everywhere.
You don’t even have to take your time to wait for the best moment or look for the most interesting angle. You just shoot away – hoping for a chance hit.
It’s like people and places do not exist as long as they are not banned on a storage chip.

Unfortunately, this independence – and the bottomless availability of photography anytime and everywhere is leading to some prettymuch mindless shooting.
I find it pretty strange – a bit ridiculous, a bit sad – when someone rushes into an art gallery, doesn’t even properly look around, all I hear is click-click-click – and then he’s gone.
What will this visitor possibly do with these pictures of random paintings?
Does he have friends who want to see them?
What does he tell them? “Look, paintings!”?
Does he look at them himself?
If so, why doesn’t he look at them while at the gallery?
Questions upon questions.

Fatally, the pictures’ quality did not increase according to the quantity. No problem, there are fancy programs to ‘edit’ pictures – and if you’re in a rush, you just slap a filter on it and you’re practically Steve Mc Curry 2.0.

Since the invention of filters, I hardly ever see skies in sky blue or meadows in grass-green: The colors are tuned as if the planet is constantly suffering from nuclear accidents – they are virtually glowing. As I look out of my window, the natural colors look like they were washed out.

So obviously there is not enough beauty in nature – not only skies, meadows, and oceans have to be pimped, mainly human features need to be optimized. Ladies aren’t carrying raincoats, sun protection, and a bottle of water with them when going on a tour, no, now they are bringing floral dresses and strappy sandals. And then they walk on the city walls of Dubrovnik and the boyfriend takes these totally natural oh-I-had-no-idea-someone’s-photographing pictures; mostly from behind to emphasize the oh-I-had-no-idea-someone’s-photographing appearance.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Cristo Redentor Rio de Janeiro Brazil
Paying Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro a visit is much less contemplative than you’d expect.

I wouldn’t even mention it if I had seen it once. Or twice. But I cannot even count how many walking women I’ve seen from behind.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Lion Rock Sigiriya Sri Lanka
Guilty as charged: Sitting on the Lion Rock in Sigiriya, for once in my life I wanted a picture of my back.

800 million Instagrammers and yet such little variety of poses. However, something really original, creative, and artistic came from the motive-monotony as an anonymous artist and filmmaker from Alaska started to group these almost identical pictures: Check out her account insta_repeat…and then maybe use a little imagination.

After I had halfheartedly uploaded a couple of pictures to my Instagram account, I realized that I didn’t have what it takes, namely a signature visual language. Then I came up with these lengthy stripes – triptychs made of one panoramic picture cut in three pieces – bada bing: Unique feature. 

Picturesque

“Would you mind taking my picture?” – there are these places that are incredibly beautiful – so we do want credentials. #metoo
Proof that these places exist! Proof that we’ve been there! Proof that we exist?!

Problem is that we destroy what we love: There is an entire list of once hidden gems that were published on Instagram so that today people are standing in line to get an epic shot. One of the most famous of these sold out spots is probably Trolltunga in Norway – where sometimes dozens of travellers are standing in line to sit for a minute on this impressive rock, pretending to enjoy their solitude amidst wild nature – until they are woken from their dream: “Move it, we don’t have all day!”

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Krabi Thailand
You don’t see it on my picture, but the beach behind me is packed to the brim with people – no wonder some of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand were closed to the public.

In some regions, travel guides urge visitors to turn off the geotagging – and, actually, there are more than 1,000 posts uploaded with the hashtag #nogeotag.

Isn’t it more exciting, anyway, to discover the world by yourself, finding hidden gems by incident instead of searching for them on Instagram just like in a catalog – and eventually standing in line with a fraction of the other 800 million Instagrammers?

Let’s protect this planet’s beauty – in every sense.

The Big Picture

“Would you mind taking my picture?” – come as you are, say cheese, and wave merrily to the camera was yesterday. Today it’s “Bring a change of clothes, bring props, walk away from the camera….but watch it, don’t walk too far!”

According to a study from 2018, between October 2011 and November 2017, around the world, there were 259 selfie fatalities – most of them in India. People are falling from the mountains of Machu Picchu in Peru as well as World’s End in Sri Lanka. They risk their lives for the one shot.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Lion Rock Sigiriya Sri Lanka
There’s no mountain – and no price – high enough for an instagrammable pic.

I just came back from Sri Lanka, the country with the most scenic train ride where people are holding on to windows and doors while taking pictures of each other and themselves.
In 2018, there were 450 deaths on Sri Lanka’s rail routes.
There are no reliable statistics on how many were caused by selfies; obviously, it can be only a fraction. However, an official selfie ban was passed, but still has to be implemented.

Meanwhile, there even exists an App called Saftie – kind of a baby-phone for the selfie-shooters: It names 7,000 places around the world where selfie-taking is dangerous. It even warns the photographer when standing close to a precipice or water.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Hopefully, Saftie will save these two.

It’s irritating that people – adults! – have to be protected from their own vanity.

Talking ’bout vanity: Last year, Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes film festival, had banned red carpet-selfies.
Frémaux, famous for strong statements, claims that selfies not only cause delays but are ridiculous and grotesque.

Je suis tout à fait d’accord.

We are all entitled to a personal opinion and this post tells you mine. However, I’m very curious about your experience with selfie-shooters and picture overdose and would love to read your comment in the section below.

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The Ski Instructor of Sri Lanka

I’m often asked how it is to travel by myself. If I’m not scared. If I don’t get lonely. If I’m not afraid that the sky may fall on my head tomorrow.

No, Sri Lanka looks nothing like this. Definitely not.
(Photo: Sondrekv, Påske, detail, cropped to 2:3, , CC0 1.0)

The answer has always been no – and meeting Sri Lanka’s only ski instructor was proof that travelling solo is a great chance to come across people that open up to you in a blink of an eye.


“Good evening”, says the young man that just parked his car in front of the door of my guesthouse in Galle Fort, Galle’s historic district.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Galle Fort Sri Lanka
There is a lot of picturesque heritage in Galle Fort.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent just one night here. I loved it. I hate leaving. Not only Galle, Sri Lanka in general. I had a great time. Like a thousand times better than expected. And I didn’t have expected little, let me tell you this.

I look up at him and smile. I have to look up because I’m kneeling next to my small suitcase on one knee, the other is actually on the suitcase to squeeze it shut while I pull the zipper ferociously with both hands.
Success – it’s closed and everything is in there.
I get up, “HI”, I answer and stretch out my hand, “I’m Renata”

“Are these your bags?” He takes all my stuff and carries it to the Toyota that’s blocking the street since the streets here at the Fort are so very narrow.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Streets so narrow that they can be blocked by one regular car.

The adult daughter of the lovely family I’ve spent 24 hours with and whom I miss dearly already now hands me three packs of cookies.
“A little gift”,  she says smiling.
“No, please, I just ate!”
“Oh well, you can just munch them on the way.”
“No, really….” but there is no escape.
The three of them – mom, pop, and adult daughter –  probably think I’m just being polite, but no, I’m not into sweets in general and I was not lying claiming that I just had eaten and even if I was starving I couldn’t possibly munch three packs of cookies. I take them knowing that I’ll leave them behind at the next opportunity.

Then I do it again: I intend to climb in the driver’s seat and everybody gestures and shouts “No, no!” and the young man must think I’m a total moron that after three weeks in Sri Lanka I still haven’t figured out the left-hand traffic.
We leave.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Sunset over the roofs of the Galle Fort.

We leave Galle and it’s getting dark and I see it illuminated by yellowish street lights and I feel a tight knot in my throat but I do not want to cry in front of the young man.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Galle Fort Sri Lanka
I missed this sight as soon as I turned my back.

We talk banalities and trivialities, you know, things you talk about with strangers. it’s a one on one situation, he picked me up seven hours before my flight will depart – at this point it’s probably needless to emphasize that I’m an extremely cautious person.

So we talk about all these things that you talk about like “Is this your first time to Sri Lanka?”, “Did you like it?”,  “Where have you been and what have you seen?”
I answer all that and it’s actually quite nice since it gives me the chance to reminisce my trip.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Tuk Tuk Nuwara Eliya Sri Lanka
So true: We just have on life – but somehow the drivers don’t seem to remember this as soon as they get their motor running.

Then we get to talk about the crazy driving and why it is and he claims that Sri Lankans must be excellent drivers since they are going so hazardous and there are still not so many accidents; actually, during three weeks practically constantly on the road I hadn’t seen a single one.

We are sitting side by side. When the driver seems pleasant, I hate this Driving Miss Daisy-arrangement where I sit in the back.
Especially as we’ll have to spend around three hours together.

So we are sitting next to each other which – since we get along really well – creates a road trip-ish atmosphere. Definitely not driving Miss Daisy – rather Bonnie and Clyde…without being a couple and, obviously, without all the bank-robbing.

On Sri Lanka’s southern expressway.
 (Photo: Abstractlife0410, CKE at night, cropped to 2:3, , CC BY-SA 3.0)

It’s getting darker. It starts to drizzle. We keep talking.
He studied environmental sciences and management. First in Colombo, then he got a scholarship to Japan. The year the Fukushima accident occurred. Shocked the world.
Nonetheless, he didn’t want to withdraw since he had already made arrangements, didn’t want to disappoint his family – I also assume that it was a once in a lifetime chance for him.
So he went.
Risking getting contaminated. He’s telling me people in Japan appreciated it a lot that the foreign students didn’t withdraw. That they helped. Worked with a team of scientists from Germany trying to decontaminate the soil using soy. Getting checked every day with a Geiger counter.

We stop at a gas station. By now, it’s pouring. I hand him my last disposable transparent raincoat that makes him look like wearing a shopping bag.
If I want anything? Well, I just had a huge Indian dinner and in case I get hungry, there are three packs of cookies in my bag, so maybe a soda, thank you.
As he comes back, he refuses to take money for the Pepsi he bought for me; you don’t charge your travel buddies.

We continue on the highway that the Chinese built a couple of years ago and that at this time of the day and in this weather we have almost to ourselves.

“It’s difficult to have such a different life than your peers”, he says.
Sri Lankan men his age are supposed to be married with kids, picket fence and all.
Actually, he doesn’t feel the pressure that much from his family, rather from his former college mates.  Those who did not make it to Japan.

Peer pressure.
Do I feel peer pressure?
Not anymore.
It would be pathetic if at my age I’d still try to live my life to other people’s expectations.
But I know the feeling. No real career. No symbols of achievement like my own house, a dog, a picket fence. He at least owns a car, I’m riding public transportation on my annual season ticket that my company throws in as a bonus.
It’s a choice. It’s something people never seem to consider when they envy me that I’ve just bought another ticket to another great destination: Remember, you guys, it’s a choice. There is a price I’m paying every day: no house, no picket fence, no car.

“After some time back in Sri Lanka, I wanted to return to Japan”, he says. A friend of his arranged a stay in Hokkaido. Hokkaido which is a major ski destination – which I didn’t know.
So he experienced snow and ice and learned skiing.
Not only did he learn how to sashay downhill in elegant bows, he learned it to perfection.
He actually became a ski instructor and taught people from around the world how to sashay downhill in elegant bows.
“You’re a ski instructor? Seriously?”
“Yes!” he cracks up laughing at my consternation.
Wow. One would expect Sri Lankans to be Buddhist monks, stilt fishermen, maybe surf instructors – but skiing?!
Unusual.
So unusual that all of sudden it dawns on me that he’s probably the only ski instructor in all of Sri Lanka.
I mean – how many Sri Lankans might go to ice-cold regions to learn skiing. Learn it to perfection. “Wow, you must be the only ski instructor in Sri Lanka”, I conclude with awe.
“Probably”, he giggles and adds “Someone once told me if Sri Lanka would participate in the Winter Olympic games, I’d be the skiing team.”

You know, it’s encounters like this that remind me again and again what’s so great about solo travel: You get in touch with people in a different way. You get closer.
Of course, even if I’d be travelling as a couple, he would still be a ski instructor and we would be talking. But the whole atmosphere would be totally different. I probably wouldn’t be sitting next to him but in the back seat with my travel companion.
He would be the driver and we’d be the passengers; Miss and Mister Daisy.
We would probably exchange pleasantries. But I doubt that he would have told a couple – even a couple of friends – about peer pressure.

As a solo traveller, you get adopted pretty quick.

Or you get squeezed in.
You fill gaps. Last empty seat on the bus? I’m by myself, I can take it.
And bada bing, I’m sitting next to a stranger and we start talking – like with the Tamil cook from Singapore I met on a bus in Cuba or the Latvian doing seasonal jobs in Las Vegas between travels or….there were so many!

Pondering on how wonderful travelling is and how, at this point, too, I liberated myself from peer pressure – I don’t feel like the quirky cat-lady anymore when I tell people that I’m actually travelling by myself – we get to the airport.
I still have three and a half hours.
We exchange facebook profiles, I hand him all the cash I have left, we hug each other.
Travelling with him and having heard his stories is the grand finale to a wonderful tour across Sri Linka.
I really, really don’t need a house nor a picket fence and definitely no car.

Before I go through security, I leave three unopened packs of cookies on a seat at the departure hall hoping that some cleaning lady who has to work at this hour of the night will enjoy them.

Did you like this little tale? Here are more stories from every destination I’ve visited….

The Great Cuba Robbery

I got robbed.

And eventually, I unveiled an even bigger theft.

These crimes happened in a quite and at the same time quite touristy place in Cuba.

Establishing my private witness protection program, I will neither specify the place nor giving you real names.

Still, this story will let your blood run cold!

For some crimes, it’s really complicated to file charges.

The Crime Scene

The very moment I stepped into the room, I felt there was something not right.

In Cuba, when you do not want to stay at a hotel, and believe me, you do not want to stay at a hotel, because they are all run by the government, and while not every aspect of socialism is bad, when it comes to service and hospitality and comfort, it actually is. If you need something or have a request, never forget that employees at these places earn next to nothing and don’t give a damn.
So what the savvy traveller does, is book her- or himself into a “Casa Particular”, a guesthouse run privately yet legally by some Cubans who can spare a room or two. Wonderful idea, great project, good to get in touch with Cubans and Cuban life.

Usually, you get a medium sized room with a heavy dark wooden bed, a mostly not matching nightstand, some kind of closet with a funky mix of wooden, plastic, and wire hangers. The room is either lightened by an old, dusty chandelier or a simple lamp from the 70s. Often the hosts try to make it look homey by adding decoration like plastic flowers or stuffed animals of the tacky fairground style.
Although this sounds rather humble, you realize that in Cuba it’s the next best thing to a room at the castle of Versailles as soon as you see how your hosts live in most cases: definitely less comfortable.

So after having spent a couple of nights in heavy dark wooden beds next to plastic flowers, you will understand my surprise when this host led me into a big, light room. I looked around with my mouth open: on a large, flat bedframe was a slightly smaller king size mattress that left enough space around it to use the frame as a bed stand. At the ceiling – instead of grandma’s chandelier – were rows of embedded LED spots. Where the hell did these people get all this stuff? The guy had a proud smile on his face when he saw my surprise and opened the matching closet – and as he opened the doors, lights went on and illuminated the closet’s inside – like in a fridge; or like in a closet at a very classy hotel room. I turned to the guy: “This is amazing! This is so elegant! It’s like a hotel room! A really posh hotel room!” The guy was shining with pride. He was standing between a sideboard and the bathroom door. “You’ll enjoy the best shower in all Cuba”, he promised pointing at the bathroom door. As I passed the sideboard, I noticed two water glasses, covered with paper lids that had the word “sanitized” printed on it. What’s going on here? Did these people actually order printed paper lids for their guests’ water glasses? Most Cubans own a couple of plastic cups – and these people sanitized glasses? Isn’t that a tad bit over the top for a Casa Particular?! The shower, by the way, turned out to be one of these big, square rain shower thingies.

The Robbery

Two days later, I get out of my king size bed, step into the glass cabin, turn on the water that drizzles in sad drops from some of the holes in the square shower thingy because unfortunately, Cuban water pressure doesn’t rise with the gadget. As I wet my hair and squeeze the shampoo bottle, there comes a tired ‘pfff’ and a small dab of shampoo. I’m irritated – the bottle was brand new when I got to Cuba, and I’ve washed my hair maybe seven times since then. It should be still almost full.  I squeeze and squeeze – nope, almost empty. How is this possible? And I’m sure I didn’t spill the content in my luggage, that I would have noticed.

Irritated I am drying myself and grab my body lotion. Hm, the container seems so light. And the lotion, too, was purchased for the trip and should be almost full. What is going on here? I’m fixating on what might have happened to the stuff – and suddenly it hits me bolt: someone emptied my toiletries!  Someone robbed me! I’m aghast.

This is an average store in the Cuban city of Santa Clara.
The problem of losing things in Cuba is not their cost or value – it’s that you can hardly replace them on the spot.

What are you supposed to do when someone steals your shampoo? It’s ridiculous. And annoying. And neither fair to me nor to the hosts.
I have to tell them.

The Interrogation

“Hola, Norman, ¿como estas, Luisa?” There they are, the slightly arrogant Norman who serves the breakfast treats as if he’s working on the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship and his tiny wife Luisa who doesn’t get a certain agony and weariness out of her expression.
“I have a question: who is doing my room?”
“Me”, answers agonized Luisa, “why?  Is something wrong?”
She does. This is not what I’ve expected to hear. This is going in a wrong direction. If there is one person in this town who did not siphon off my shampoo, than it’s this pathetic tiny person.
“Ummm, it’s only you? You alone?” Nodding. “Umm, some of my shampoo is missing. Someone must have decanted it.” “It was not me!” She becomes agitated.  “It was not my wife!” Norman has her back.
Ok, what kind of dumbass do you guys think I am? Not one second did I suspect the landlady at this fancy place losing her reputation over shampoo.
But someone took it, and I don’t believe them that nobody got into my room.
They insist frantically that it’s only her having access to the room and they ask me over and over again if I’m sure, and I keep repeating to be sure and they keep repeating that they didn’t do it – which I’m sure of, anyway.

At one moment Norman goes to another room and comes back with a box full of small shampoo bottles, the size you buy for weekend trips or find in hotel bathrooms. “Look how much shampoo we have, we don’t need yours! “, does he bark in my face.
“But I never thought it was you guys”, I repeat – meanwhile a little exhausted by this terribly embarrassing situation.
“You know what, forget it, it’s not that important”, I try to escape this shampoo hell; meanwhile Luisa has tears in her eyes and looks more miserable than ever.

I go to my room to get ready when I hear someone knocking. As I open the door, there is Norman standing with his arms full of shampoo bottles of all kind of brands. “Look what guests left with us: all this shampoo! We don’t need yours. Take one, take anyone you like” and he’s pressing shampoo bottles upon me.
Ok, this is getting out of hands. I really have to control myself not to crack up laughing. This is absurd. Stop showing me shampoo! I don’t wanna hear about shampoo anymore.
“My wife is sick, she had to take pills for her blood pressure!” Ok, that’s enough. I have a shampoo trauma and will never wash my hair again.
I need to get out of here.

The Special Unit

While I’m walking down the old colonial street paved with cute old cobblestones, I remember that the way to hell is said to be paved with good intentions. It was by good intention that I wanted to inform these two that someone is stealing at their house; and it got me to shampoo hell! Beats me why they insisted it wasn’t them and obviously didn’t even consider for a second the help hanging around the house. I bet she has access to the room, too, but I didn’t want to add fuel to the shampoo….um, flames.

Wandering around, I spot the English couple I’ve met some days ago in Cienfuegos sitting in front of a small diner having coffee and sandwiches. Now that I’m sort of a public enemy, it’s nice to see familiar faces, so I ask if I can join them.

When travelling, it’s not unusual to meet the same people at every place you go over and over again. Most of the time, travellers go to the same spots. Therefore in Peru they call the route from Lima down to Titicaca “ruta del gringo” – very suitable.

So anyway, since I’m in distress and they are nice I tell them about the shampoo robbery and they are sympathetic and find I was absolutely right to tell the hosts about it. “Where is it you stay?”, asks the English lady and I tell her Norman’s and Luisa’s names. “This is where we stay, too! Got there yesterday evening. We have the upstairs room”, she cheers – only to immediately turning a bit edgy. “Oops, we have all our stuff there. I left everything open…” “I wouldn’t worry”, I soothe her. “After today’s fuss, you’re stuff will never be safer. You don’t think that now that all eyes are on this situation someone will take something from your room, do you? What’s much worse is that his wife has a heart condition. If she dies from this, I will have killed her over shampoo!”
We both giggle, and that lightens the mood a bit.

To make up for the calamity I caused, I now start to say nice things about our mutual hosts; how professional he prepares and serves the breakfast, how nice everything looks. “Yap, he actually is a professional. He used to work at the Iberostar hotel. Didn’t you notice: the spoons and the other dishes have the Iberostar logo on it.” No, I haven’t noticed. All I noticed was that everything is really very new and modern. The English’s room is not like that, though. As I describe mine mentioning all the details, they are impressed and seem to be a little bit jealous. “Yes, it’s really fantastic”, I emphasize and describe the spots and the lights in the closet and the square – thus low pressure -shower and the lids on sanitized glasses. “Like a hotel room”, I end my admiring/bragging.

A Bad Penny Always Turns Up

“Maybe it is a hotel room”, says the English lady.
We look at each other. My eyes are going wide and my jaw drops.
“Oh my god, you don’t think he…”, I stare at her in disbelief. Slowly remembering every bit, it dawns on me – the printed lids, this morning the box full of miniature shampoo bottles you find at hotels, all the especially for Cuba unusually state of the art stuff.
“You mean he got all that stuff from his former employer? Oh my god, and I told him ‘This is like a hotel room’…”
“But you were wrong: It is not like a hotel room, it is a hotel room. You are staying at an Iberostar room outside Iberostar!” she’s laughing.
“How….?” I cannot even finish the sentence, this is hysterical! “Well”, the English leans back and sketches the scenario coolly “they probably took a cart and a donkey and went there after dark. There’s an Iberostar just down the block. They didn’t even have to go far”. I feel like such a naive fool that I didn’t suspect anything, even not when I saw the überprofessionel paper lids promising me the glasses would be sanitized. Wow, this is unbelievable!

This is just an illustration. In no way am I insinuating that this gentleman is moving hotel furniture with his cart.

And then I remember that in Cuba this might not be such a big deal because Cuba is like a museum of the “really existing socialism”.
 Almost thirty years ago everybody in the former Eastern bloc lived like that, and here the signs are still there: the queues in front of every bank, phone company, the almost empty stores. The oblivious  – best case – to rude – worst case – employees of the state-owned enterprises who see no sense, let alone challenge in being service oriented or friendly to customers. And of course, the refined art to obtain things that are officially nonexistent or not available. The term is not stealing, it’s called “organizing”.

One of the pillars “really existing socialism” is built on: forming queues, waiting in line;
no matter what and no matter what for.

Someone is washing her sins away with my shampoo – “organized” from my room.

This story shouldn’t by any means hold you back from travelling to Cuba:

Read my inspiring description and extended information on this fascinating country.


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THE LANGUAGE LEARNING TRILOGY – I don’t claim to be an A-student….

I’m looking so much forward going to Brazil next month: Two weeks Portuguese at a school in Rio de Janeiro including living like a teenage exchange student with a family.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: GNAM Roma - Sala delle Colonne / Alfredo Pirri: Passi
Learning abroad means not exclusively increasing command of a language; it allows you to learn and grow and look at
things from a different perspective.
Here during my first language course in Rome on a visit to the GNAM – Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna:
Standing on “Passi” by Alfredo Pirri, consisting of a huge broken mirror on the floor
 of the Sala delle Colonne, the entrance hall.

On this occasion I’d like to look back at my previous language classes that took place in Italy and Turkey – and share some precious, fun and a bit quirky stories with you:

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Language Learning Trilogy: Rome
Part One: ROME
bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Language Learning Trilogy: Izmir
Part Two: IZMIR
bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Language Learning Trilogy: Milan
Part Three: MILAN

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Wondering why I’ve chosen this motive? Well, it’s a sculpture by Pietro Canonica, who died in 1959 in Rome. A museum at the Villa Borghese is showing his vast work – Canonica in his time made busts and statues of many great men e. g. a equestrian stuatue of Mustafa Kemal Pascha aka Atatürk standing in Izmir.
I like how Italy and Turkey are united in Pietro Canonica’s naturalistic work.


CAMBODIAN DIARY – 2nd CHAPTER – Confusion in Sihanoukville

After today I think I should change my blog’s name: Even after four days in Cambodia, I haven’t said that loudly “bye” to myself. And the ongoing mishaps really keep on testing me big time.

Yes, don’t frown. Mind you, it’s a journey, not a vacation.

I want my life – and my travels, too – planned and organized just as booked.
My life – and my trip – don’t seem to know…or they just don’t care.

So today was meant to be a lovely day on the beach of Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s Riviera. Whoop whoop, let’s hit the beach!

A couple of days ago I had bought a surprisingly cheap bus ticket. Tix usually range from 8 to 12 Dollars (oh, I forgot to mention that: although Cambodia does have its own currency, everything is priced in US Dollars and even at the ATMs you can choose in which currency you want your money). So anyway, my ticket was 6 bucks. Was I suspicious? Not really, since prices vary here for no obvious reason. Well, in this case it turned out that there was a very obvious reason, but I’ve found out only this morning.

When buying the ticket, the lady recommended me to take a big bus instead of a van since I’m tall and would be more comfortable. Actually, she had a point there. I asked how much longer the big bus would take and was very happy when she said only 30 minutes: the van 3 hours, the big bus 3.5 – fine. Pickup by tuk tuk at 7, the bus leaves at 7.30; I expected to put on sun protection by noon, tops.

The tuk tuk picked me up a little late and took me to a bus station on the other side of town where to my surprise where exclusively Cambodians, I was the only Barang. Changing my voucher for a ticket, the lady at the counter told me – here again to my surprise – that the bus would leave only at 8.15 and that it takes 5 hours. Oops. The first ticket vendor doesn’t seem to know about this, someone should tell her…
What about the sun protection at noon?! I was so longing for the beach!!

Rith Mony bus station. The lady to the right is just an extra, the bikes to the left play a major role.

Once the bus arrived, I was rather pleasantly surprised: It was actually big and in a condition that did not scare me. And there were only three of us – three adults that is plus a handful of kids. This promised to be a relaxed ride. I made myself comfortable, plugged my ears with headphones, off we went.
Yeah, but not too far. After only a couple of minutes we stopped at another bus station of ‘Rith Mony’ bus company (I guess that everybody that has ever been to Cambodia is cracking up laughing at mentioning that name). The driver opened the trunk where until now was only my suitcase and two bicycle helmets and started to load two motorcycles of a remarkable size – you must know that the entire lower bus level is a very high trunk and the passengers are sitting only on the upper level.
Anyway, so two motorbikes plus their owners and off we went.
Yeah, but again…for their customers’ convenience, ‘Rith Mony’ seems to have many, many, many bus stops all over Phnom Penh and we seemed to stop at every single one of them.
Same procedure – two more bikes, but this time they have to heave also a big, big crate in the trunk, this sure takes some time. By then I was sure that my skin would not get that damaged by the sun this day.
You know what, I just spare you all the other stops that we had withing Phnom Penh’s city limits – they were very similar, only the size of the crates varied.
Eventually there was almost no space left in the trunk and few seats were available and we seemed to be on our way.
Yeah, nope – for no obvious reason we parked suspiciously long at the freeway’s shoulder with the motor running. It was very irritating. And unnerving. By now I had decided that I urgently needed to change my blog’s name – I was so demoralized and tense – and as ‘myself’ as can be.
Why didn’t we move, for Christ’s sake? I asked around.
Well, since this was a very cheap bus (although I’m pretty sure that I’ve paid at least double of the actual fare) the other passengers were noticeably rather common people hence didn’t speak one word English.
No answer to my ‘why?’
Then I saw from the window that a tuk tuk brought a big, big motor that the driver initially had refused to take with him at one of the many, many stops we’ve made. But clearly the owner had convinced him during the beginning ride towards Sihanoukville so that we had been waiting for the motor to catch up with us.
And indeed – obviously it was the only thing missing since once the motor was in the trunk, nothing held us back to hit the road.

By then I had remembered Tina Uebel’s wise words in her lovely book that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago: If you get mad when having a situation, the only thing that changes is that you got mad. I want to be a savvy traveller and a wise old woman, so I did my best to try to relax and even see the great chance in it to do something completely off the beaten tracks (yes, this bus was going so off the beaten tracks, all the other tourists here should be sooo jealous!), to travel like Cambodians do and not in an air-conditioned van with free Wifi (these are the 8 to 12 Dollar options, by the way).

Why not take a little break – life can wait.
The entire lower part of the bus is the trunk, by the way.

While I’ve immediately agreed with Tina on this wisdom, I disagreed with her on the fact that  travellers have to look like poorly dressed fools in useless cargo pants sweating under huge backpacks. They don’t have to. I don’t. But man, did I feel out of place in my dress with my brand-new fire-red travel bad elegantly spinning on four wheels. I was such an alien.

Before I came to Cambodia, I read that there are many accidents because the drivers are speeding. Well, on this bus, this was my least concern. We were slowly gliding – and sporadically bumping – along the road. Left and right occasional houses, huts, and stands, therebetween ponds and creeks with muddy, murky waters. Some of them half or completely covered with discarded plastic bottles, styrofoam bowls and shopping bags. Man, this country is drowning in plastic and styrofoam! I’ve never seen it in these quantities before – it’s everywhere. And when I see ducks swimming between the garbage in these manure ponds and cows graze around it, I don’t wonder anymore how all the micro plastic is entering our food chain. I might feel a little bit silly when I get home and do carry my sorted garbage to three or four different recycle bins. I will not be able to save this planet, that’s for sure.

A very nice, clean part of the road.

As we kept on gliding and bumping along the garbage und filth framed road, I did what’s best for a traveller: I was thinking and looking. The looking was much more pleasant than the thinking since the sight of Cambodia – always in combination with the past horrors that I’m reading about – made me sad. But there were also nice things to see like rolling hills covered with sumptuous bushes and trees, mellow rice paddies and buffaloes covering themselves with mud again the blistering sun. Everything was so…Cambodian. I looked around in smiling faces and smiled happily back – I will not change my blog’s name after all.

One of many whistle stops as we approached Sihanoukville – a guy in a purple shirt gets on the bus and urges me to get off, this is Sihanoukville. Woaaah, wait a minute, this is a very dusty road in the middle of nowhere.
I want to go to the city center.
Yes, but this bus doesn’t go there, you have to get off here, this is your final stop.
I still don’t understand why a very dusty road is my final stop, but what can I do?! Somehow the driver manages to drag my – fortunately still pretty shimmery – suitcase from the motorbikes and they’re gone. The purple guy is still there and miraculously he has a tuk tuk and is willing to take me to my guest house. Emphasizing his helpfulness he heaves my suitcase in the tuk tuk.
Waitwaitwait – how much?
15 Dollars.
No way.
I gesture to take my suitcase down. He stops me, asking how much I’d pay.
3 Dollars. Max.
No deal.
Never mind, there is a restaurantish hut, I can ask them to call the guest house.
Ok, 10 Dollars.
Nope, guest house calling it is.
What’s your final price? he asks.
Five, and no further haggling.
This time he is nope-ing.
Ok then, I pull my suitcase from the tuk tuk.
Madam, madam, I make you price like local people: 30,000 riel (that’s the currency nobody uses – and this amount equals about 7,50 USD).
Seven, I say.
As I sit in the tuk tuk and we figure out how to get to the guest house, I think that I bargained quite a good deal – less than half of his initial price, well done, madam.
On the other hand I’m pretty sure that he cut a deal with the bus people so they allowed him to drag me out of the bus into his stupid tuk tuk.
What did I tell you yesterday? “It is comforting that when you get screwed over in a country like Cambodia you at least can be sure that the money goes to someone who needs it”, right on, madam, right on!

So the purple guy and I drive a little around Sihanoukville since he doesn’t know exactly where the guest house is – and I’m not much of a help since I’m not from here. Finally we get there, I hand him 7 bucks and pull my suitcase from the tuk tuk for a very last time for today. Bye!

You think that’s it for today? I thought so, too. Until the receptionist at ‘Villa d’Artagnan’ – later I learn that Adam is his name – greets me and opens our conversation with the information “Unfortunately we have no room for you – we had a water damage”. And guess what I do. Just guess!
I start to cry. Sorry, but after the frustration having been screwed over so easily by the bus ticket vendor, the neverending, unnerving motorbike and huge crate heaving at I don’t know how many stops in Phnom Penh, the partly very depressing sight of rural Cambodia with all that filth and the disheartening poverty, the pointless haggling with the purple guy – everything seems just so unfair. I’m exhausted, a little bit physically, but mainly mentally.
Adam is extremely embarrassed and keeps apologizing and pours me a nice lemonade. Now I’m also apologizing for being so silly to cry over something like this especially since they have already made arrangements for me at another hotel.

And this is where I am now. I really protected my skin well today. Because, guess what, as soon as I took out the sun protection to at least hit this hotel’s swimming pool, it started raining.

I’m willing to give tomorrow a new chance.

Wanna know what happened before? Here is the first chapter of my Cambodian Diary:

CAMBODIAN DIARY – 1st CHAPTER – Commotion in Phnom Penh

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my trip to Colombia earlier this year, in this Cambodian Diary I’m posting one chapter from every stop. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant travel information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy my narratives and reflections.



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going up!

Ride with the Devil

I always thought if I had the chance to choose on judgment day, I might rather go to hell than to heaven: I’m suffering from acrophobia so a place as high as heaven might scare me to…well, it won’t scare me to death anymore. Then, I’m afraid that way up high over the clouds it will be always a little nippy, and I like it hot.
But after recent events, I’m not so sure anymore.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Ride with the Devil - Bus Rides
Taking the bus in Kuala Lumpur is fine. It’s when you leave the city limits that the adventure begins.

After I was riding with the devil, I’m afraid I’m not fit for the highway to hell.

As I mentioned before, I’m not driving. That doesn’t hold me back from being on the road a lot, and apart from a few places in the United States, I got everywhere just fine. Sometimes it needs a little more organization, sometimes it takes much more time, but I’ll get where I want to go. Most of the time by bus.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Ride with the Devil - Bus Rides
Those buses come in various colors and shapes – with very different drivers…..

The standards of bus riding differ from country to country a big deal. In Cuba, the long-distance buses are pretty well maintained – I’m talking about the touristy, costly Viazul-buses imported from the People’s Republic of China. The country of origin is the reason why they are not really comfortable: They have been constructed for much shorter passengers….like for instance Chinese. But still, well maintained, the drivers wear sharp uniforms – creased pants with a white short sleeved shirt and a tie; depending on the man in the uniform, they look like parading a ‘sexy pilot’ costume.

Likewise in Peru.
There, while ‘chauffeur-Ken’ is driving, a ‘flight attendant-Barbie’ with an amount of makeup like a kabuki player on her face has an eye on the passenger’s well-being. Taking the bus in Peru is a little like sitting in a plane that never takes off.

Well, taking the interurban bus in Malaysia is a whole different story. There the drivers are much less pretentious, wearing whatever they please – and if it’s a torn T-Shirt, it’s a torn T-Shirt; and who says that you cannot drive in broken flip flops? They are living proof that it works just fine. Just forget ‘safety first’, that’s for wimps.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Ride with the Devil - Bus Rides
These little winged skulls should be many bus company’s logo.

There is no need for Malaysian drivers to dress to impress since secretly they rule the country. They are the kings – at least of the roads.
They sashay by the waiting passengers without so much as looking at them, let alone greet or answer a question. They grudgingly open the trunk and command this contemptible lot with a silent motion to put their dunnage in there – what you mean, there is a puddle of motor oil in there, put your stuff in, I don’t have all day. They show this bunch who’s the one that runs the show here.

As soon as everybody has taken their seats, the king gets the motor running and off he goes crossing his kingdom. Obviously, he has to inform his queen thusly because he takes out his phone and has a good natter only paused by answering his other phone from time to time or lighting a cigarette. Over his head, there is a plaque with a crossed out cigarette which might be interpreted as ‘no smoking’. But who are you, subject, to tell the king what to do?!

It was pretty much like this when I took the afternoon bus from Kuantan on Malaysia’s East coast to Singapore. The bus was about half full, the driver in a great mood talking to what seemed to be a colleague, smoking like a chimney. These guys were the only ones with warm jackets on, so no wonder he had to turn the air condition up as high as possible. Everybody else was freezing. Everybody else were passengers, so who cares? I was quite a newbie to Malaysia and the system of secret emperors so waveringly moving from seat to seat I went forward to tell him that it was really, really cold. To emphasize my words – his English seemed as rudimentary as my Malay – I wrapped my arms around me and shivered ‘brrrr’. He was delighted! He was laughing and laughing. He loved my little pantomime and kept repeating ‘brrrr’ – and then he laughed and laughed.
He did not turn the air condition down.

The driver’s cabin in a Sri Lankan bus: Here, the King is willing to share his space.

Johor Bahru is the last stop before you cross the border to Singapore, and there everybody else got off. We were alone – the king and I.

I took the liberty to ask him if there was an ATM or an exchange booth at the border since I had only Malayan Ringgit. From his reluctant snarl, I understood that there wasn’t any. I asked him a couple more questions like where exactly are we going, what time will we approximately arrive, will there be an ATM there (there, wherever we arrive at whatever time). He didn’t bother to answer even one of them, instead, he kept on smoking. Since I was sitting behind him now, practically sharing the smoke with him, I impishly pointed at the crossed out cigarette ‘dilarang merokok!’ – smoking is prohibited; like I explained in an earlier post, babbel.com arms you with a load of helpful vocabulary. Although in this case, it didn’t help. He cracked up laughing, repeating ‘dilarang merokok!’ as if it was the most absurd joke ever and kept on merokok.

We got to the border. He stopped the bus and said things in incomprehensible English. I looked at him questioningly, he kept repeating, we didn’t get any further. Fortunately, an officer showed up and explained me the drill – I had to get into the building to get my passport stamped at the Malaysian side of the border; and I had to take all my belongings with me. The bus would wait on the other side. It was shortly before midnight, there weren’t any other people besides those who had to be there because it’s their job. I schlepped my backpack and my bag up the stairs, entered a huge, now empty hall with a row of booths. I got my passport stamped at the nearest booth, wished the stamping lady a good night and schlepped all my stuff down other stairs to the bus.

We drove for about three minutes and arrived at the Singaporean side of the border. Same drill – off the bus with all my luggage in tow, up the stairs, stamp, good night, down the stairs, to the bus…but there was no bus. There was a line of curbs but no busses. I sat down on one of the benches, tired, being a bit frustrated that everything took so long. No bus.

After about twenty minutes it dawned on me that I might wait at the wrong spot, maybe the grouch was waiting for me somewhere else.
I went back to the border. Between two traffic lanes was a channeling island with a booth and in the booth was a lady – who was pretty unhappy that I entered her island. “You’re not allowed here, it’s dangerous!” she shooed me away after she confirmed that there were only these curbs where the busses are waiting for their passengers.
So I logged all my stuff back to the bench and kept waiting. Slowly I didn’t believe that the guy would ever show up. He probably was already laying on the bedstead in his king driver’s castle.

The longer I waited, the clearer was the picture: he was annoyed by all my ‘brrr’ and ‘dilarang merokok’ talking – because the driving potentates aren’t used to the subjects’ complaints or back talking. So this one had taken advantage of the fact that I was his only passenger and just split. Left me stranded. Left a woman stranded in the middle of the night – by now it must have been about 1 a.m. – at the border of a foreign country. Left a woman stranded in the middle of the night at the border of a foreign country knowing that she didn’t have any of the local currency.

I went back to the island, the lady in the booth was surprised to see me again and since I was in such distress, she didn’t even snap at me for joining her on her enclave again. There weren’t any cars at this time, anyway.

She took me to the stop for the local buses and explained my situation to the bus driver – a real hottie, nothing like the villain that abandoned me – he agreed to let me ride with him for free. I had no idea where I was, I didn’t know where he would take me, and if I knew, I didn’t know how to get to my hostel, anyway. It was about 2 a. m., I still didn’t have one Singaporean cent.

And we already arrived. Somewhere. At the final stop. His final stop, definitely not mine. Okie Dokie, so we arrived, thanks, terima kasih banyak. “There are taxis over there”, pointed the hottie, and he was not only hot, but he was also right, there was a cab. “Are you taking credit cards?” “Only visa”, answered the cab driver pleasantly friendly. “That’s fine. So please take me to Rucksack hostel on Hong Kong Street.” The challenging journey was about to end, what a relief.

byemyselftravels
Singapore is one of my favorite places in the world, so the odyssey was absolutely worth it!

Hong Kong Street is – you might have guessed – at the outskirts of the old Chinese neighborhood, thus it’s lined with old narrow, about three storey high row houses. Very cute. The Rucksack hostel was painted in red and the nice man stopped right in front of it. He told me the price, I handed him my credit card, he put it in the slot, the little machine wrote him on the display that the card declined. This happens sometimes, to me, to you, normally it’s no big deal. But at this moment – I was not only beat, I felt also beaten. He was so friendly to try again twice, but nope, for some reason, the stupid machine and my stupid card were not willing to cooperate. “It’s fine, you don’t have to pay”, said this sweet, sweet man. “No, I don’t want that. Wait, I have Euros somewhere.” “No, really, it’s fine”, he insisted. “No, wait a sec, here you’ve got 10 Euro. At least with the change, I’ll have some Singaporean money”, I imposed the crinkled tenner on him.

While I typed in the code to unlock the hostel’s entrance door, I felt a bit bad. I had the feeling the driver was insulted that I’d refused his generosity; but I would have felt bad taking advantage of his kindness. Oh dear, what a day!

And then it was a small sheet of paper that comforted me and made me forget the mean driver and the hodgepodge and the nice, but snubbed driver – it was a little welcome note that I’ve found at 3 a. m. at the door of my room at this lovely hostel. And you bet, I had a good sleep!

byemyselftravels
After the long, exhausting, adventurous trip to Singapore, this sign made up for all the hardship.

Once you make it to Singapore, you might appreciate a couple of recommendations from my itinerary for “24 hours in Singapore”

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how fast a health insurance does pay off

…is the World Alliance for Patient Safety‘s goal. The alliance was launched in Washington D.C. in 2004 and the title leaves no questions regarding its purpose. According to my experience, it was about time.

byemyselftravels
Getting sick on a trip is hardly ever funny – but returning home in parts fortunately doesn’t happen very often.
(Illustration: “#SCHWEIN1378” – by Swiss artist Andrea Staudacher)


For years and years that I’ve been travelling, I didn’t even think about getting health insurance for my trips. Which doesn’t mean that I never got sick. It’s just that when I began to explore the world bye:myself, it was in Europe, where everything was covered by my regular German health insurance. When going to the US, I always stayed for roughly ten days only – and I know that this argument is completely illogical because it takes minutes to get sick and seconds to die. I mention latter because the travel health insurance doesn’t only cover therapy and care, but also the cost for your body being sent back home in an appropriate container; hence I’d say this might be called the worst case scenario, and fortunately you won’t use this service too often. So anyway, even though my chances to survive a ten days trip to the US weren’t that bad, I could have always gotten sick. But I didn’t.

While Euro-trips were covered and US-visits were short, medical service in every other country was very, very cheap and the insurance premium for a long term stay pretty high.
So no insurance, even when I began to travel with my baby at the age of two (just to be clear: I’m talking ’bout her age). And what can I say, the baby got sick from time to time. In Belize she got a sort of a rash. It’s the tropics, it’s hot and humid, perfect climate for a rash to stay.
At this point I might mention the fact that although you pay comparatively little for medical care, they are very, very generous when it comes to drugs: An itching mosquito bite? Go, cover yourself from head to toe with cortisone. A light flew? Here, have some antibiotics – or even better, pop two different types at the same time, just pop them like candy.
So the doctor at the hospital in Dangriga, without further ado or questions regarding allergies or intolerances, prescribed antibiotics. I wasn’t very happy with the prescription, but I had two more months there and wanted the baby’s skin to get better. So I took the prescription, put the baby back in the stroller and headed for the hospital’s pharmacy.
It was a small window in a dark wooden wall. “Where is your bottle?”, asked the lady in the window. I was confused – I had no bottle; and informed her thusly. She rolled her eyes. “How do you want to carry the medicine?” “In its pack?!”, I answered reluctantly. “The medicine has no pack. You have to bring a bottle and we fill it up.” Well, this to me was undoubtably a very new way of obtaining medication. Consequently I had – as mentioned before – no bottle on me. “Wait”, the unsympathetic lady ordered. I heard her rummaging behind the dark wooden wall, and when she reappeared she had a bottle of “Newman’s own ceasar dressing” filled halfway with some slimy, yellowish liquid. In addition to the cost for the medicine she charged ten cents for the recycled empty.
When I opened the bottle at home, a strong smell of caesar dressing filled the air. I hesitated a short moment. And then I flushed the content down the drain.
Back in Germany, I took the baby to the pediatrician, he put a tiny bit methyl violet on the affected area, and the rash was gone for good.

Unfortunately, Belize was not the only time that I threw out drugs some extremely generous doctors had prescribed. Avoiding the…let’s call it ‘unpretentious’ public clinic in a small Honduran town called Trujillo, I took my three year old daughter, who seemed to have a bladder infection, to the private clinic. The friendly elderly doctor looked at her, frowned thoughtfully, took out a sheet of paper and wrote a long, long list. With this list he sent me to the pharmacy next door which – don’t mistake coincidence for fate – belonged to his wife. I handed her a lot of money and she handed me a big shopping bag full of small bottles and boxes. At home I took a close look at the patient info leaflets – where there were any. While rummaging around I dropped and broke one of the bottles, so that problem was solved. And from the rest I more or less randomly picked one antibiotic and threw everything else out. The antibiotic did help, but no, this is not the procedure the doctor prescribes – and neither do I, but special situations sometimes require special measures.

It’s terrible, but there are moments I do understand why Latin Americans call doctors ‘matasanos’ (freely translated: ‘killing the healthy’).

Anyway, years later I did get a travel health insurance for the first time. Only because the woman at the travel agency offered it when handing me our tickets to Hawaii. “It’s only 19 Euro per year for the two of you. And getting sick in the US can get really expensive”, she added, and I felt foolish to spend so much money on tickets and not invest another twenty bucks so I signed the contract. And guess what – two days before our flight home we went to the food court at a mall and my then teenage daughter Mimi had a burrito and threw up all night. The problem was that she didn’t only throw up all night, she continued throwing up at the break of dawn, too, and went on all morning. She has an extremely sensitive stomach and once her guts get queasy she cannot stop. So after trying every home made cure like laying down to rest, moving around to get the circulation going, drinking some stale coke, eating a salty cracker, taking a shower and so on, I recognized the necessity to take her to the clinic. We hardly made it there since by then she was limp like a wet rag, holding a plastic bag to her face, her stomach contracting. “Hello, the doctor will be right with you. But first you have to sign here please”, the friendly nurse pointed on the dotted line. “So the basic fee is 180 Dollars, everything else will be added to this.” OK, 180 bucks plus maybe 30 or 40 for the saline solution – it’s salty water in a plastic hose after all – how much can that be?
An infusion and three hours later I had my answer: 588 American dollars and 62 cents. The 180 bucks basic fee were probably for using their door handle; cash or credit?
Before forwarding  the invoice to the insurance company, I had a quick look at it: besides the basic fee covering…nothing, and a long list of services that I didn’t understand, there was some medication they handed her although she didn’t need them at all. We threw them out.

I don’t know whether now, that we finally have insurance, she doesn’t want it to go to waste, but since then she has been on many drip infusions in various countries for the same symptom – severe dehydration – conspicuously often. If all these hospitals around the world cooperated, we might get her a loyalty card.

byemyselftravels
Good morning, sunshine! Food poisoning made Mimi spending the night at the most expensive accommodation of our trip to Malaysia, thus not necessarily the most luxurious one.
(However, thanx again to the guys at Gleneagles Penang Medical Center, you did a good job) 

I harbor the suspicion that doctors are particularly bountiful when it comes to desperate travellers that will forward their invoice to insurances.
They not only lavishly prescribe drugs, they also tend to double check überthoroughly.

A friend of mine got an infection while she was in San Francisco. Her credit card was somehow limited and she still had weeks of travel ahead so although she did have travel health insurance, she went to a public clinic. Needless to say that this institution was in no way more glamorous than those in Belize and Honduras. She had to wait for hours and hours together with other not so blessed and wealthy people. Then she got an examination, a prescription, everything was fine. Weeks later she got a long invoice from the clinic stating besides the check up and the medicine also a – surprise! – pregnancy test. Nobody at this clinic ever asked her if she might be pregnant, informed her let alone asked permission to perform a pregnancy test. Plus they added more than 60 bucks to the invoice for it.
Having said that, the extra-info that weeks after going to a free clinic she found an invoice in her mail might make you reconsider. The clinics are free insofar that they look at you although you don’t wave a credit card hello, but that doesn’t mean that the consultation is actually free. And don’t even think about not paying it because you think you’re far away: if you don’t settle the invoice within the time indicated, you’ll have a bad credit entry in the United States.

Maybe now, after these anecdotes – and I spared you all the belly-aching-food-poisoning-hugging-the-bowl-stories, you might feel like having an apple; to keep the matasanos away.

The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 3: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Milan

I can remember neither the moment nor the occasion – but there was a point when I clearly saw my life’s biggest goal. No, I don’t need to see a 1000 places, they can’t make me hear 1000 recordings, and I won’t read their 1001 books before I die.

byemyselftravels
Class of 2016: my wonderful interesting, sophisticated, talented, and creative co-students
and our sweet teacher Claudia (kneeling in the middle).
In the back you see my class mate Ji Hun Yeo from South Korea who came to Italy to study – take a wild guess – lyrical singing. One time we had the great pleasure to get a mini-concerto.
Click here to enjoy it, too.

My goal in life is to be fluent in ten languages when my time has come.
If I were happy with elemental knowledge, I’d be already there. But ‘fluent’ is key, consequently I’m taking my “Bildungsurlaub” serious and do brush up the dusty basics.

After Rome and Izmir, last year I intended to study Portuguese in Lisbon. Since this didn’t work out due to the school’s neck cutting prices, I was rather indecisive. And I was indecisive until there wasn’t much to decide anymore, therefore I ended up in Italy again. This time in Milan.
Being disenchanted by the first two bummers, I chose renting only a room, no strings or families attached. But faith was kind and surprised me with a landlady that turned out to be a very classy, highly educated retired teacher – after all she was all I had unsuccessfully expected from my guest families during my first two language vacations.

There is much less ancient art found in Milan than further South, but in return there are exquisite modern venues financed by big companies such as Fondazione Prada or Pirelli’s Hangar Bicocca – creative, stylish, cool. Of course there are the renaissance and baroque paintings to be admired at the Pinacoteca di Brera (I’m willing to appreciate sites just for the term ‘Pinacoteca’ – already the sound promises beauty) and divisionism and Italian neo-impressionism at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna. And obviously there is must-see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper at the church Santa Maria delle Grazie. But don’t think you can just waltz in there whenever you like. You have to either book online or call a hot line days ahead. You have to pick a precise visiting time – and we’re talking minutes here. Supplied with your personal booking number you need to show up thirty minutes ahead to pick up your ticket and eventually you’re waiting on a wooden bench with the dozen of people who booked your time slot, too. Due to the tight time slots there are at least two groups waiting at the same time together, feeling competition, eyeballing each other suspiciously. At the designated time, a guide – or rather guard – shouts your number and everybody is pushing towards a sliding glass door. It’s like a frigging high-security wing – one door has to close behind the group before the next opens, and this goes on and on, and then you’re finally standing in the refectory marveling at the fresco. You have fifteen minutes, that’s a lot to marvel at one single fresco, even if you take a couple of pictures and turn to the other wall from time to time. But the ticket is 12 Euro so you marvel till you can’t marvel no more to get your money’s worth. After 13 minutes the guard finally releases you from by now mindless staring, announcing that in two minutes the next marvellers will get in. Again, on your way out you have to pass some security door systems as if your escaping a quarantine laboratory.

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Da Vinci’s ‘Cenacolo’: staring for 80 cents per minute.

Regarding my Italian class, it was again the eclectic mix of students from around the globe that impressed me the most. It was like Luciano Benetton put us together to incarnate his ‘United Colors’ campaign:

There was Paolo, whose name was certainly not ‘Paolo’ since he’s from Taiwan, but in class they called him Paolo. Very classy, very camp, and on top of it all brilliant, he gained a one year scholarship for Germany and made the most of his stay in Europe by first learning Italian.

He was sitting next to Gamze, an aerial Ottoman beauty from Istanbul, formerly studying economy in Harvard. Beautiful Gamze with this melancholic expression on her face despairing over the events of Summer 2016 back home in Turkey.

Then there was Paula, a sumptuous Brazilian looker, putting up with two hours on the train every day just to come to class from the lost village whereto she had followed her Italian love.

Jorge from Medellín who despite obvious lack of sleep from heavy partying managed to have a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and more energy than any of us. Must be a Colombian thing, because when Carolina, a Franco-Colombian journalist, joined the class, it was like a whirlwind whipping us all up.

What a contrast to the cautious, restrained Asian school mates like Vittoria (again an Italianization of names, I guess), studying fashion, writing poetry, searching and finding herself in a million poses and selfies. Best buddy with gorgeous Bo Jing, a design student of flawless beauty – face like an Asian film star (was it you the main lead in ‘Hiroshima mon amour’? Oh no, that was in 1959 when probably even your parents weren’t born yet).

Rassa, a worldly and refined Lithuanian, doing simultaneous translations at the European Union in Luxemburg.

I could go on and on and list outspoken Johanna, a bel canto student from Düsseldorf and Ji Hun who seemed to be taken by surprise by his own overwhelming talent and all the other exceptional talents and personalities.

And what brought us together was the joy or necessity of learning Italian – Babel was a brilliant idea after all.

Did you enjoy this funny little story? Here you can read what happened at the other destinations:


The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 1: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Rome

The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 2: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Izmir

The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 3: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Milan

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The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 2: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Izmir

Since my two weeks educational vacation in Rome were of such a great personal gain, two years later it was time to get back on the language horse. After many hours in front of the computer screen talking in rudimentary Turkish to a learning program, I decided to give Turkey a shot.

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Nestled between palm trees and lamp posts: Izmir proudly presents the ‘Saat Kulesi’ – its major tourist attraction.

Remembering my schedule in Rome where I spent mornings at exhibitions and afternoons at school, my first choice was buoyant and artsy Istanbul. I intended to split my time exactly the same way I did at the Eternal city. But a quick look at the prices thwarted my plans. Language lessons in Istanbul costs triple of the one I found in Izmir. So Izmir it was.

Everything I knew about Izmir was that there is an Izmir. Anything I was able to find on the internet was not very appealing. Izmir was described as big and modern and tolerant – which are unquestionably nice attributes. But big and modern and tolerant alone is not necessarily very entertaining, and the only sight I saw over and over again was the ‘Saat Kulesi’, the clock tower. I was not sure if the clock tower would capture my imagination for two weeks.

Actually I wasn’t even lodged anywhere close to the clock tower at the center of Izmir. I’d arrived at Karşıyaka, a borough with lots of very new, for my European eye quite charmless neighborhoods. Practical apartment buildings, few people on the streets – there was a project-feel to it.

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There are certainly more animating places in the world than Izmir, but the one hour boat ride from Karşıyaka, where the Turkish Language Center is located, to the city center is quite idyllic.

Although my homestay in Rome had turned out to be a bit autistic, I gave it another try and chose to be hosted by a Turkish family. Since by then I had only spoken Turkish to a computer, I needed to be challenged to extended conversations badly.

I was lodged at a tiny lady’s big flat that she shared with her son who seemed to be in his early thirties. Single woman, adult child – Rome all over again. It’s not me repeating myself, life doesn’t surprise me enough.

First school day, first breakfast. “Yemek hazır!” I heard the tiny host mother calling from the kitchen next to my room. I was happy to understand right away the meaning: food is ready. What a head start, this stay promised to be a great linguistic success. When I got to the kitchen, there was a lovely omelet, there was a small basket with bread, tomato and cucumber slices on a saucer and one of these oriental glasses of tea. But there were no people. “You’re not eating?”, I scraped up my Turkish vocabulary. From her answer I understood that her son was still sleeping. And with that she went to the adjacent balcony, closed the glass door and lightened a cigarette.
I was hungry, school was waiting, I dug in. In front of me was a TV set blearing on a shelf behind the kitchen table. A young man, surprisingly hyper for this time of the day, informed the viewers about all sort of mostly very disturbing incidents.
No, wait, one story was really funny: It was about a man getting money at an ATM, and while he was waiting for his cash, the shop owner let down the rolling grill without realizing that someone was standing in front of the shop at the ATM. Only hours later the man, still trapped between the rolling grill and the ATM – isn’t that hilarious? – was released by the police. I found this incident priceless and would have loved to share a laugh with someone. But my guest mother was smoking on the balcony and my Turkish wasn’t good enough to explain this complex story, anyway.

After school – there was only one more student, a preppy American – and the first of my almost daily trips to the ‘Saat Kulesi’ I came home and tried to get my host mother involved in some kind of conversation, but my effort remained unrequited. After a while I heard her calling “Yemek hazır!”. At the kitchen I found a plate with chicken and egg plant and a basket with bread and slices of watermelon on a saucer and a glass of water. But I didn’t find people. Since she was standing on the balcony smoking a cigarette and I heard a different TV program from the living room, I didn’t bother to ask whether someone would join me. I had company, anyway: on the TV was some Turkish soap opera on, and – what a happy coincident – a jolly family was about to have dinner. I joined them on my side of the screen.

For two weeks the hyperactive young man and this soap opera lot kept me company and became sort of my friends while my guest mother was sitting on the balcony and her son was watching another program in the living room.
The Turkish practice didn’t go like I had imagined, but I cannot say that I didn’t learn anything at all. Besides the familiar “Yemek hazır!”, I learned very quickly the words “yaralı” (wounded) and unfortunately also “ölü” (dead), which proves that the show (by then I understood that the program was called “çalar saat”, alarm clock in English and thus very suitable for a morning news program) informed their viewers of mostly sad incidents.
In order to understand more of what my dinner companions were laughing and bickering about, I’d needed at least two more weeks; still it was nice to see their familiar faces dinner after dinner after dinner.

Now some words about the stay in Izmir apart from my lodging situation: Indeed, there is not much of the touristy, exotic kind to see in Izmir but it’s a great gateway to other great places like the lovely beaches on Çeşme peninsula and not that lovely, but very close by beaches at Foça. For those who are into old rocks and lots of dust, a one hour train ride takes you back in time to the Ruins of Ephesus, and after two hours by bus you reach Bergama with the Antique Acropolis and the even more impressive Asklepieion.

So all in all and especially considering the purpose of my stay, I had a nice time, but after having spent two weeks there, I don’t need to go back to Izmir ever again.

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I took the opportunity to finally see Pamukkale which was on my bucket list since about thirty years ago I’ve seen a fantasy movie where some creepy guy used to live all by himself on these surreal limestone terraces. Well, I don’t know what they did over those last thirty years, but today you are definitely not by yourself.

Did you enjoy this funny little story? Here you can read what happened at the other destinations:

The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 1: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Rome

The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 2: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Izmir


The Language Learning Trilogy. Part 3: I don’t claim to be an “A” student…bye:myself in Milan

If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture (and check my Pinterest boards):