Author: Toni K N
Date of Trip: November 2008
My passion is travel and I took an around the world trip all by myself starting on Halloween, October 31,2008 and ending February 25,2009. It took me about a year to do all the planning, on my own,and that was being very flexible to overcome obstacles.
I am a Realtor and we all know what the last 2 years have been like. I have the pleasure of living in Fort Lauderdale which has had the distinction of being the worst market in the country so I had plenty of free time. I also own investment properties that I have had to subsidize and as I watched my hard earned savings fly away I decided to take this opportunity to spend some money on myself and live my passion before it was all gone.
I used my frequent flyer miles,220,000, to get an around the world ticket on Delta and their partners in Business and First Class. The rules of the ticket are that you can go in one direction….east to west or west to east. You cannot double back and there is a limit of 6 stops. If you land in one place and take off from another on the same continent it counts as one stop.
So I started in Dublin and then used other forms of transportation to reach Istanbul where I used my around the world ticket to fly into Moscow. From Dublin I flew on Aer Lingus….which I loved….to Venice Italy. After a day and night in Venice I boarded Costa Cruise Lines for a Greek Isle cruise.
The cruise visited Santorini, Rhodes, Mykonos, Bari, Croatia and Dubrovnik. The itinerary was awesome, the ship is very pretty and the food left a lot to be desired. This was a good thing though as I did not overeat and therefore actually lost weight on a cruise. Can you imagine that? I made wonderful friends on this cruise that I know will be in my life for a long time.
I had not planned where I was going after we disembarked back in Venice and received many suggestions from my friends on the cruise. I wound up taking the night train with a private compartment in first class to Vienna. The train ride was wonderful and I highly recommend this experience.
Upon arriving in Vienna I transferred to the subway which took me to the center of the city. I then visited a Tourist Office and was directed to a wonderful reasonably priced hotel. I loved Vienna with all it’s beauty, fabulous architecture, culture and charming refined people. I was so fortunate to be there at a time when everywhere was decorated for Christmas and they had Christmas Markets set in the city center.
I took a day trip to Prague from Vienna and it was so much fun to ride through the snow covered mountains. We had just enough time in Prague for me to know I want to go back and explore on another trip.
From Vienna I took the train to BudaPest, Belgrade and then flew on a discount airline to Istanbul. On the train from BudaPest to Belgrade I met 2 fabulous women from Athens and the time flew by….again making friends to last a lifetime.
I loved the energy of Istanbul and was constantly on the move with new experiences that I will treasure forever. Along the way on the entire trip I did an e newsletter to my family, friends and clients packed full of details. I have been encouraged to turn it into a book and I am working on that.
From Istanbul I flew on Aeroflot, in my opinion the worst airline out there, to Moscow.The last 36 hours have been a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts.
Yesterday leaving Istanbul the airport was really interesting….you had to put all bags through security before you could check in for your flight. Long lines and I met a really interesting man from Denmark who not only helped me get my heavy bags on the counter ….he also engaged me in a very stimulating conversation about world conditions and politics. It never ceases to amaze me how involved everyone is in the US condition. He was telling me how encouraged Denmark is about Obama being our President Elect.
Next up…. checking in to Aeroflot…my Russian airline connection. Huge crowd…even in Business Class line. Very slow agent…finally through and she gave me a ticket to enter the Millennium lounge to have lunch….the worst food ever !!! I was hoping that’s not what the food on my flight would be !!!
On line in passport control I ran into the adorable honeymoon couple from Mexico that I met on the Hop On Hop Off Tour. They are so cute and we exchanged cards and want me to contact them if I come to Mexico.
On the way to my plane the handle on my new carry on broke….my old one may not have been pretty but it has survived everything I put it through over the years. Like I’ve always said……pretty is not everything!
On the plane they had a really big business section and there were only 3 of us in business. Where were all those people in line ahead of me?
Landing in Moscow really started my imagination and frustrations going. Confusing airport to say the least !!! Cash machines that I had trouble figuring out….rude people….no help at all. Next I was negotiating with the Taxi driver….or so I thought…before agreeing on a fare. We went from 4500 rubbles to finally agreeing on 2000. The exchange rate is 27 rubbles to $1…….so you can see taxis are expensive here. We get out to the top where the taxi is….or I thought that’s what we were doing….when he actually called another driver and car to come get me. Nice car…this driver does not speak any English and I have to pay the 1st guy and get a receipt. OK….I’m getting a little nervous and get in anyway. We leave the airport and all of a sudden the driver pulls over to the side of the road. Oh no……what now……he was just answering his cell phone….thank you God! We are driving down a very dark road that looks very out of the way to me and we are heading into the woods….ok….this is really it….I’m going to be left for dead in the woods!
I did not feel any better for at least 20 minutes….my imagination was working at full speed. Finally we were in a very well lit area and on what looked like a highway to me. As we drove into Moscow it started to get really beautiful….lots of amazing architecture and busy streets with people walking everywhere. Finally we reached Le Meridien National. I almost kissed the ground when we got there I was so relieved!
Checked in ….dropped my bags and walked across the street to Red Square. Wow….so interesting and beautifully lit at night. I took some great pictures….which you will get to see at some future date. The doorman at the hotel gave me an umbrella and made sure I was bundled up…..he even tied my scarf so I would look like a Russian .There is an ice skating rink set up in Red Square just like Rockefeller Center in New York. Music and skaters…..people walking all around…..great energy.
There is an amazing underground shopping center that is really beautiful….open until 11 o’clock. Full of tall gorgeous girls in short dresses and high boots. The shopping center went down 4 stories.
This morning I had wonderful breakfast at the hotel and then went to The Kremlin. Closed on Thursday….go back tomorrow. I went to Saint James Basilica….what an interesting building. The kind of architecture you see in all the photos….looks like a fantasy of color. Just as interesting inside even though everything is in Russian and I cannot read Russian.
There also is a Christmas festival with stalls set up in Red Square. As I was taking pictures I saw a row of Porta Potties(I’m sure they don’t call them that here) with a woman sitting in one to take money. I had to take a picture of course….not something you see every day unless you are in Russia!
The energy on the streets today was not the same as last night…..no one smiles….I think the cold and rain makes them angry! I tried to find an Internet cafe and was striking out all the way. At the hotel in the business center it is 900 rubbles an hour .I am sure you know that’s not where I’m at now!
Back at the hotel I rested in my room for awhile…read up on Moscow and then went down to the concierge to try and arrange a taxi back to the airport on the 6th. More fun….she said a car to the airport for 1 person was 4000 rubbles. I asked why I had read that a Taxi should be 1500 and she said that was for a regular Taxi from not so good company with probably a small car. I explained to her I am traveling for 4 months…on a budget and I do not want to buy the car I only want a ride to the airport. She called the (not so nice) Taxi company and got me set up. I don’t feel like I overpaid coming in because it actually was a very nice car with good music…..even if my imagination went wild. I did not even have to pay extra for fantasy hour(lol).
Tonight I walked down to this area…which name escapes me right now….and when I was leaving the hotel my guardian angel doorman gave me more advice and directions. He is so sweet….the nicest person I’ve met in Moscow. I happened upon this very high end shopping center which just happened to have an Internet Cafe on the 6th floor. Its actually a lovely lounge and they were having a private part and the doorman/bouncer went and got the manager and he set me up at this very high tech computer with blue lights on the keyboard (since we are in a dimly lit club). Great music playing while I am sending you this email…..very nice experience….I have no idea what this is going to cost and that’s ok because I am enjoying myself!
Moscow is full of beautiful women and gorgeous clothes and furs. It is soooo expensive here I’m glad I’m only here 4 days…….it will definitely break the bank ! Definitely no shopping in case you could not guess !
I am soooo happy to be out of Russia…..never to return ! The exit at the airport was even more horrible than the entrance. The airport truly is run like a third world country and they are so nasty it is unbelievable. When I checked my luggage in….the same luggage I arrived with 4 days earlier only a little lighter now…. I was charged almost $380. for overweight. Since I did not shop or add anything to my luggage I put up a fight….had them weigh it on another scale and took things out and put them in my carry on. Still would not give me my boarding pass until I paid. So I insisted on putting it on American Express and will file a complaint and dispute the charge.
Aeroflat is most definitely the worst airline ever ! Terrible old rattletrap plane…uncomfortable seat in business class with no footrest on a long overnight flight and no one speaks English.As good as the food was coming from Istanbul that’s how bad awful it was leaving There was an Aeroflot Captain flying with me and he was even telling me how bad the airline is and that they do not care at all about their customers or crew. No wonder everyone is so miserable/
On a much better note….my last full day in Russia was spent sightseeing….The Kremlin Museums and then I took a city tour that went all over. The guide was a nice Russian girl named Nika who lived in Ohio while her father taught at the university there. When the tour was over she accompanied me in the metro system and showed me all the stations that have amazing artwork….murals….mosaics… and explained the history behind it all. Yesterday before I left I went over to Lenin’s Mausoleum and saw him lying in state……too weird…..he looks like a wax figure and it is so strange. The military guards really move you along if you linger after waiting in long lines to get in.
I arrived in Bangkok to smiling faces at the airport. What an amazingly wonderful feeling. Everyone here is just lovely. I booked an official airport taxi and they are having an airport special since the airport just reopened. So I received a free escorted tour along with my taxi ride to the hotel. I had a confirmation at the LeMeridien and when I got there the hotel is not actually opened yet, it opens Dec.15th. The staff there was wonderful and they found me a great hotel next door, The De Arni, that just opened 2 months ago and the room is half the price. Beautiful room…since everything is brand new with a large safe in my room…..an absolute must ! it’s a small hotel and there’s no breakfast and that’s ok because for what I am saving I can eat anywhere. The hotel is right in the middle of the business district and it is the area where all the nightlife is.
I took the tour today and she showed me a wonderful temple with gorgeous Buddha’s and one that is called the reclining Buddha. So beautiful with all the exquisite gold leaf and hand painted walls. There were many other temples…one more beautiful than the next. I love that everywhere you go people are smiling and friendly and when you enter a business they put their hands together as in prayer and give you a slight bow when they greet you.
I loved Thailand and the wonderful gentle souls I met everywhere. I will revisit many times. From Bangkok I went to Chiang Mai and then Chiang Rai. I rode an elephant through the woods and across the river.I took a day trip to The Golden Triangle and the only place I got food poisoning was from the restaurant the tour driver took us to. Ugh…..3days of being really sick and one of those days was traveling to Singapore. Definately not the best condition to travel!
This is going on forever….. so I will leave you wanting more. The rest of my trip included Ho Chi Min City Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shouzu, Qourfu, Ji Nan, the bullet train to Beijing, Tokyo, Keyoto, Nikko with more bullet trains traveling through Japan. I landed in Auckland, NZ, and spent 13 days before hitting my last stop in Seoul Korea.
February 25, 2009 I arrived home in Fort Lauderdale with the feeling my trip was too short. Four months and I could have kept going . This was totally a life changing experience for me and I now look at everything differently.
Please live your life with passion…..I am and will continue to !