The technique is simple: use a large space and divide it into cubicles which you call “cabins” and advertise as “private rooms” with shared facilities.
The catch: the cabins don’t have a ceiling; they’re technically merely cubicles. And everything else is in the same space: cubicles, reception, showers, kitchen, all of that is cramped together in one big room with no sound isolation.
And this is how, when I expected and paid for a tiny private room, I realized all I was getting was a cubicle in a 25-person dormitory. Cramped like a chicken in a battery cage.
Oh they’re lovely cubicles, they’re tiny of course but the bed is clean and comfortable, there’s also a tiny table, a socket so you can charge your phone, and a mirror. But they’re just cubicles and you can hear everything what’s going on in the same space.
So I spent the night listening through my earplugs to people’s body noises and zippers from their bags. I woke up at 7 am because that’s when one guest’s alarm went off, and then listened to people’s conversations whilst they were having a bagel.
And yet here I was, having paid a hundred dollars for a private room but technically sleeping in a 25-man dorm. Feeling speechless, and hopeless too, for I have a feeling that this is not really legal and yet I have no idea where to complain.
If that is the price to pay for visiting New York, thanks New York, I’ll pass.
For these Chelsea cabins are not cabins good grief, they’re cubicles!
A spectacular leap into history and a stunning drive, the 2000 km long Kolyma Highway is also known as the Road of Bones, because the skeletons of the gulag prisoners who died during its construction were used in many of its foundations.
This highway runs from the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the Lena river and has enabled Soviet Russia to populate extremely remote areas with terribly harsh weather conditions, that were rich in coal, gold, tin, and other minerals.
You hardly see any passenger’s vehicles on the Kolyma Highway. A few vans perhaps, but mostly trucks: heavy, robust, Soviet born Kamaz trucks that transport industrial goods, or food products for the remote villages.
The road is in good condition but it’s a dirt track in most sections. Every truck is followed by a huge cloud of dust, which makes the driving highly challenging when you’re following one or trying to overtake it.
Distances between towns are huge, and it is common to drive for many hours and not see a soul or a house.
I’m not really sure why our driver kept a gun within reach. Protection against bears, brigands, or both perhaps?
Every now and then, a rusty sign; an abandoned village; a little chapel at the side of the road. Or a little café open 24 hours that serves meat patties and mashed potatoes.
I was there in July 2016 and travelled on the Kolyma Highway for 1090 km from Magadan until Ust-Nera, where I took an Antonov plane to reach Yakutsk.
Abkhazia was one of the territories on my Caucasian route this summer. Self-declared independent with Russian support after an atrocious war with Georgia in the 90s, Abkhazia is a land of contrasts. And not just the contrasts of high mountains and endless coastlines; but those of beach holiday makers enjoying their summertime in the middle of war ruins.
The war ended 24 years ago, but the first impressions are that of a country that just got out of it.
Many buildings still wear the scars of war or are even demolished. Abkhazia lost more than half of its population (killed or exiled) so many houses are abandoned and the country feels strangely quiet and empty. The roads are in a terrible state, and there were power cuts the whole day when we were there.
And yet, Abkhazia has always been an important holiday destination for Russians and still is, as it offers cheaper accomodation than elsewhere by the Black Sea, plus a few beautiful sights. So you’ll find all the mass tourism cliches, from people taking selfies, street vendors selling beach accessories, tourists parading on the promenade in Segways…
What I think holds Abkhazia together, along with the support from Russia, is the propaganda. How else could you justify living in such isolation and desolation? There are a few propaganda posters; with flags of Abkhazia, and with messages reminding that the war was worth it. Abkhazia is beautiful, that’s why we had to fight for it. We died in order to live.
Oh, it’s not mass tourism; there’s no airport and the only way to reach is from Russia, but Sochi airport is just a few hours away, and trains run, including a direct from Moscow. So quite a few Russian families choose to spend their well deserved summer break there.
What is funny, is that Russian is the default language, even amongst locals. Unless people know each other, they address each other in Russian until they find out that they both can speak Abkhaz. Why is this happening, if the country is independent?
But as a matter of fact, Russian by default is not just the language. The currency is the ruble, dispensed in the few ATMs the country has, the only train left (as connections to Georgia are broken) is fully operated by the Russian company RZD with the same Russian agent at both sides of the “border”, and regarding the “border”, well, they won’t stamp your passport, so is it really a border anyway?
A deadly war full of atrocities, followed by 24 years of peace in ruins, all of that to get rid of the Georgian domination, and get vassalised by Russia instead? Abkhazian logic eludes me.
It was a tough and rewarding day travelling, and I was over the moon. So proud of myself – this was exactly what travel is to me:
A journey out of the beaten track
Where experience is as important than the destination itself
Travelling by my own means
And suffering a little bit on the way, real travel shouldn’t be too easy
After breakfast that morning, I had only a vague idea of what the day would bring to me: my goal was to wander around, into the non touristic Northern neighbourhoods of the Georgian capital, to potentially check out a few landmarks I found about in Google, and see what else I would find on the way.
I love these days spent walking, with a broad objective in mind, and letting encounters distract me and my plans. I spend the whole day observing, experiencing, analysing; getting to new insights about the place and its people. It really makes me high.
That day, I walked during 8 hours, including a 45-minute detour just to check a building that looked interesting at the other side of the river.
That day, I also took a bushrutka – OK that’s a word I made up, because it was a vehicle of a size between a proper bus and a marshrutka (a van in Russia). And guess what: the journey was horrific.
The bushrutka was 45 minutes late. It was so incredibly crowded that it felt it was going to explode. It was too heavy to go uphill, and incredibly slow. It was incredibly hot inside. I was feeling privileged but cheating because I had a seat.
When we reached a bus stop and I saw a man stand with 2 children, I didn’t believe my eyes: they did actually try and get in. I sensed the trap, and immediately grabbed someone’s bag to put it on my lap; good choice, as just a second later my neighbour had a child on his. Tap on my own shoulder: oh yes I’m an experienced traveller.
At the top of the hill, I gave the man by the door a heads up that I was planning to get off at the next stop, so he would let me pass. His severe face expression confused me and I jabbered and didn’t express me really well. He said no and looked away.
That day, I learned the difference between hospitable and friendly. Georgians are incredibly friendly with tourists because they are incredibly hospitable – they love having you there in their country and want you to experience all what’s great about it. But that doesn’t mean they are particularly friendly outside the beaten track, especially if they don’t know you’re a tourist.
I had to fight a little, but I did eventually manage to extract myself from the overcrowded van.
I was starving, as it was Easter Monday and Georgians are serious about Christian holidays: all shops and restaurants were closed and I didn’t find a single thing to eat or drink the whole day.
I was happy and proud: it was a real day travelling, outside the beaten track, experiencing the real life and its daily struggles, just for the sake of it. A bit of a painful process at times, hence even more rewarding.
If you have been in Iran like me, you know that the country, seen from the inside, has not much to do with the axis of evil Western propaganda tells us about.
The friendly and hospitable people of Iran have to comply with the rules, but it doesn’t take long to spot a nice touch of rebellion in a portion of them.
The duo – uncle and niece – who took us to the ancient village of Kharanagh were masters of joyful irreverence. How they were having fun and were flirting with the norms gave me a delightful flavour of this part of Iran.
They told me I should climb to the top of the village’s minaret mosque, which was very old and very narrow.
“Stand with one feet on each side”, they told me. I found this a funny order, but I complied.
“And now, dance the boogie woogie”. What? “Yes, shake from one leg to another”. Really?
I must have looked very puzzled, because they laughed a lot, but I did what they told me, and the minaret started shaking, making the whole mosque tremble and gently roar.
It’s only after a few seconds that I realized what they made me do: I was dancing the boogie woogie on top of a minaret! I also like to flirt with the norms and the rules, but this went much beyond what I had hoped for myself in Iran.
Not only did this seem rather dangerous – how many more times until the poor mosque will actually collapse? – but it made my travel companion, standing at the bottom of the minaret with no clue of my endeavours, freak out and believe he was trapped in an antique mosque during an earthquake.
But I was so exhilarated! I am not one who expresses political opinions or signs up for ideological debates; but I did manifest my outlook on life: I danced the boogie woogie on a top of an Iranian minaret!
This post is a response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: Climbing
Iran is the land of kebab; particularly if people are going to bother and go out to a restaurant, then it’s a festive meal and kebab is on the menu. Not the most exciting perspective for a non meat eater like me.
During my trip in Iran, tired to eat rice and bread after a while, I decided to try and make them grill vegetables. I bought a few onions, aubergines and courgettes on a food market and brought them to a street food restaurant.
The men were puzzled at first. It had never occurred to any of them that they actually could grill vegetables, it seems. But they gave it a go; and I enjoyed a fantastic dinner of grilled veggies with lime, garlic yoghurt, and Iran’s fantastic flatbread.
This week, Ailsa‘s photo challenge theme was Cook.