Posts Tagged With: Euro

The Things We Carry

Main Serbian Train Depot

Historic Belgrade Train Station

Salutations from Budapest! As our travels enter October, Brooke and I are onto a new month and another new country. We landed in Hungary yesterday via an uneventful seven hour train ride from Belgrade to Budpaest. The easy going ride on the mostly-empty, mostly-modern train gave us time to visit the dining car and enjoy the passing scenery from giant windows (rural Hungary looks a lot like rural Indiana) during a comfortable ride. And at only 15 Euros a piece, riding the rails made for an inexpensive way to get north to Budapest. Speaking of the Euro, we find ourselves in yet another European country that is not using the Euro for its currency. How is this possible? Denmark, Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and now Hungary – all of them Non-Euro. With 17 countries using the Euro, we must be defying some serious odds here. Ah well, the Hungarian Forint will be just another conversion rate to learn and another set of colorful bills with faces of unknown politicians and local heroes to master. I counted whilst on the train; this is our 11th different currency (not counting any stops from our Baltic Seas Cruise) since we began our trip in New Zealand. Fun financial fact: three of those nations (Singapore, Hong Kong, and New Zealand) also call their monetary standard the dollar.

Each time Brooke and I move from country to county, we attempt to inventory, pack and repack. As we’ve covered on the blog before, trying to determine exactly what and how much to pack was one of our most daunting challenges during our trip prep. We repeatedly heard the motto “pack half as much stuff as you think you’ll need and twice as much money as you think you’ll need.” Sure, this is easy enough if your grandfather’s name is JP Morgan. But all in all, we feel very good about what we are (and, just importantly, what we are not) lugging around the world with us. Although, early on, we realized that we probably did pack a few superfluous extras. Our deck of playing cards has seen the light of day twice so far. I brought along juggling balls because….sigh…I planned to learn how to juggle. Our days have been packed with exploring and learning, so I could probably have left those ridiculous multi-colored balls at home. But there are two handy, electronic gadgets that we use every day and have been essential in our travels: our iPhones and our digital camera. At this point in the trip, I couldn’t imagine getting by without both of them.

Everything we need for the trip in four bags…

First things first regarding the iPhone: we do not have any type of cell phone service or plan. Verizon and AT&T were understanding enough to put both of our plans on hold until we get back to the United States. We’re using the phones as WiFi devices only. The phone calls that we do make are through an exceptional app called Local Phone which connects over WiFi. Local Phone allows us to dial just about anywhere for mere cents per minute. It’s odd, but I haven’t sent a text message since late July (and hopefully no one has tried to send me one). But even just on WiFi, our little Apple gizmos have been a valuable part of our traveling arsenal. We usually have little trouble getting online and the phones have allowed us to book rooms through the Hotels.com and the Air B’nB app, read reviews, map our route, set an alarm, research next steps and check e-mails while just waiting at the bus station or relaxing at an outdoor cafe.

Needed surgery for the iPhoneThe iPhone has been particularly handy when things go slightly awry, like a cancelled hotel reservation, and we both can scramble to get things set right. Brooke tracks our budget at every turn using the notepad and I play Penguin Airborne. Plus, the iPhone makes a wonderful back up camera along with a couple hundred of our favorite songs. I did run into a mini-disaster that left me in a state of panic and dismay last week. When the new iPhone operating system was put out there to correspond with the release of the famed iPhone 5, I attempted to upgrade my phone. Along the way, my iPhone went kaput and I was in the dark for three days. Luckily, a helpful, patient clerk at the “iStyle” store in Sofia allowed us to connect to a Mac and helped me reinstall the new software. Thanks to the Cloud, I didn’t lose a thing. Huzzah for the Cloud! Huzzah!

Our digital camera has been the other key piece of equipment. A once in a life time trip justifies buying a new camera. The camera is incredibly important because it is the best thing we have to really document this trip. While browsing models at the always amazing B&H in NYC, we had to make the decision between a fancy, high-tech SLR camera and a point & shoot. In the end, we chose to go with a high-end, well reviewed point and shoot: The Cannon Power Shoot S100. I’ve already taken more photos than I can count and have only managed to drop it twice. While I would really dig a big,fancy camera with a collection of lenses, the truth is that I don’t know an F-Stop from the F-train. I would look impressive with my camera, but it would have been for naught. The pocket size of the Canon means that I almost always have it on me. Someone once told us the best camera for the shot is the one that you have on you at the time.

One of the best photos we’ve taken on this trip. In Japan using the low light setting.

The camera works exceptionally well, shoots outstanding digital video and has some nifty settings like Handheld Nightscene, Slow motion film, vivid setting and more. I do wish that I was a master of some of the more advanced functions on the manual settings so I could really get the most out of some photo opportunities. Like creating a silhouette of Brooke in front of a Japanese garden. or catching the low-light moon rise over the Bucharest train station. But, in any case, I’ve gotten some amazing photos out of it so far

Another small piece of technology that Brooke said I should add this to this list is a simple but important one: Our ATM card. Being able to withdrawal the local currency day and night has been a huge assist. Even in remote places, we haven’t had any trouble finding cash machines and, not surprisingly, ATMs are kind of the same the world over. It’s meant not worrying about banks, travelers checks and visits to exchange windows only when dealing in left over cash. It’s these small pieces of technology that makes taking this kind of trip in 2012 certainly a lot easier than taking it in 1962. And of course, we also have the last essential component: a large bag full of chargers and world-wide plug adapters! Certainly this trip would be possible without any gadgets or gizmos, but for the sake of ease and sanity, they are a “must-have” for us.

-Phil

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Categories: Cell Phones, Communication, Eastern Europe, Iphone Apps, Packing, Rail, Trains, Trip Prep, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stopping by Estonia!

Again, we apologize for the intermittent posting. Wi-fi is limited and absurdly expensive on the cruise ship, so we’re only able to post whilst at port.

Behold! Beauty!Salutations from Tallinn, Estonia! As our epic Baltic Capitals cruise continues to sail across Northern Europe, we docked in Tallinn and spent the better part of today in Estonia’s biggest city situated smack dab on the coast. Our oh-so luxurious and comfortable boat was only in port from about 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, so we endeavored to make the best use of our short time. Tallinn is yet another city that we knew virtually nothing about prior to visiting. Our trip has been extraordinary in helping us fill in these giant gaps of knowledge we have about a ton of places around the world like Estonia, Singapore, Vietnam, etc.

Tallinn is one of the smallest cities in one of the smallest countries that we’ve spent time in thus far. The entire nation has a population shy of two million. It doesn’t take long to discover that due to it’s small size and “favorable geographic location”, this is a country that has been invaded, occupied and controlled throughout its history by nearly every major European nation including Sweden, Denmark, Germany and, most recently and most notably, Russia. The more we see of Europe, the more it dawns on us how the history of these European nations is so intertwined. Estonian is the local language, but you won’t hear it much outside of the country. It’s unique to be in the midst of a language that only 1.5 million people speak among millions of Europeans.

Rocking it in the older part of townA large part of Estonia’s history involves being resilient while fighting seemingly endless oppression by much larger nations. In fact, in the last 800 years, Estonia has only had 40 total years of true independence! And twenty of those years have been since 1991. That’s crazy to wrap your head around. The country continues to grow on its own two legs and recently joined the E.U. and converted to the Euro just two years ago. Our lunch bill had the price in both the old Estonian currency and in Euros since locals are still adjusting to the conversions. In some ways, Brooke and I were exploring an entirely new nation comprised of a centuries old culture and people. We’re seeing parts of the world in a changing time with some counties experiencing independence and peace only in recent years. Estonia has a remarkable story and it is a remarkable time to for us to visit.

Also, please refer to me as the Baltic Fox moving forwardOnce again, the ever-present Hop-on Hop-off tour bus served us incredibly well. We’re on the cusp of writing personal endorsements for these buses.  When we only have a short time to dig in and see a city, these double-deckers are perfect. For just ten Euro a pop, we enjoyed a guided ride on two different lines covering a solid chunk of the city. Plus, the bus provided transportation to and from to the cruise port. We learned about the Estonian singing culture and their giant outdoor amphitheatre that can accommodate thousands of singers (Estonians apparently love to sing), Tallinn’s role in hosting water sports on the Baltic during the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and we got a good look at a scary looking seaside prison turned museum.

Since our Norwegian Sun was one of four, count ’em four, giant cruise boats clamoring for space in the port, our first sight in Old Town was tourists and more tourists. At first impressions, you might think that Tallinn’s main population is nothing more than confused looking middle-aged tourists with cameras and fanny packs. We explored old town for a bit which was made up mainly of beautiful old preserved buildings and churches and surrounded by an ancient wall that has large parts still in tact. Old Town itself has an authentic Medieval look and is quiet, sterile and only used now for historically preserved buildings, government buildings and souvenir shops. Wandering away from the crowds and down the hill, we ambled around the corner and we discovered this great Army-Navy Antique Store. The place was a wonderful mix of antique store and history museum with Soviet and Nazi era flags, metals, propoganda posters, busts of Lenin, Matchbooks and more. Just around the corner, the Estonian History museum was one of the best we’ve seen on this trip so far. The small but mighty museum included an exhibit on a recently merchant’s chest dating from 1350 which was unearthed from the Baltic Sea just last year.  The museum also has a very entertaining, tongue-in-cheek video that gives a colorful, brief informative history of the country. On top of all that, the museum has a bathroom that talks to you. I’m pretty sure the toilet was trying to teach me Estonian one word at a time.  It was a little creepy at first.

Around 5:00 PM, Brooke and I marched proudly back onto the boat satisfied with the job we had done. We hit the city hard and fast. Our reward? A quick history and taste of Estonia. Today was a good day: spending half the day exploring a brand new country in Estonia and the other half keeping busy on our giant boat. Speaking of our time on this massive rig, cruise living continues to treat us very well! We’re meeting friendly (mostly American) new faces around every new corner, kicking tail and taking names at trivia (particularly Name that Tune Movie Trivia) and we even managed to catch a Sunday Night NFL game which was pumped in live via Satellite late night in the Sports Bar. The food has been sensational in the categories of taste, availability and quantity. And running on the treadmill is a much more inspiring activity when the view from your window is the moving, open sea. Tonight was a delicious dinner with an ocean view in the main dining room, enjoying a live version of Deal or No Deal, watching a group of shipboard singers and dancers plow their way through Broadway Show tunes, and enjoying some more good luck in the Casino. Hmmm…is it too early to look into a fifteen day cruise? Next stop: St. Petersburg!

-Phil

One last image of some of Old Town from high above. The big church in the background doubled as beacon for sailors and has burned down like five times.

Check it out! Spring Awakening is coming to Tallinn! (We think that’s what it says)

Watching some Sunday Afternoon Football (at 12:30 AM!) on the Norwegian Sun’s Sports Bar on Deck 12 with new friends. Never that far from home…

Categories: Budget, Casino, City Visits, Estonia, Reflections, Self Guided Tours, The Cruise, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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