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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Milano By Day

Italy, Milano Highlights



After a seven hour and forty one minute flight we touch down in Milan about ten minutes ahead of schedule, one of us fully rested, one not so lucky.


2015-04-03 02.37.48“Buongiorno” from a smiling Immigration Officer, an easy walk through Customs and just like that we are officially in Milano.





I always wonder why other countries immigration and customs airport entry procedures are not as easy and nice as in most cases all across Europe.
A stop at Hertz and less than thirty minutes later, “The Blue Panda” is headed to “The Duomo”.

The Milano morning traffic is a bit more hectic than expected but eventually we end up navigating our way to a parking spot within eyesight of the main train station.



2015-04-03 15.39.34Stazione Centrale



At a parking rate of 1.20 euro per hour we think we have found a good deal and set off for about a 3 hour self guided walking tour.

We could not have asked for better weather as we head towards the Milan Cathedral (Duomo). Along the way we are entertained by the sights of the city including a traffic stop juggler. Shop windows are decorated in brilliant colors, some of them with designs that celebrate the upcoming Easter holidays.


IMG_0004In one area Peruvian street performers woo the crowd with soothing music and a walking street is filled with pedestrians.







IMG_0010The talents of street performers are sometimes amazing.






At one point we watch an artist at work using vegetables as his sole medium. A rose made out of carrots is astonishing.




2015-04-03 12.15.37Piazzo Castello



It is just so gorgeous as we sit at Piazzo Castello and relax by the water fountain. A walk down Via Dante and the majestic Duomo comes into view. Although I have visited the Duomo before it still is and will probably always be impressive to me.



2015-04-03 12.53.22Milan Duomo



Our travel budget and Swiss bank account is way too small to do any shopping at Galleria Vittorio but it is still nice to dream of one day having a complete Italian wardrobe makeover.


2015-04-03 13.38.33We love the soft blue that seems to be the in color this season and I now regret not taking out a small loan to be a part of the current fashion trend.






2015-04-03 14.31.11A fresh and affordable lunch at Mr Zuppa then it is a brief visit to the main train station before we are on the road to Verona.







Sunday, February 8, 2015

Transnistria, A Day Tour Of Tiraspol


My tour of Tiraspol sort of officially begins but then it is quickly interrupted by a gentleman who approaches my guide as we are walking away from the train station. An engaging conversation takes place and I am impressed that my guide who is American is holding his own communicating in Russian. Tim gives me a quick insight into the conversation which is interesting to me.


2015-01-21 14.24.39The other man is a taxicab driver who Tim used during the New Year holiday celebration when he had a run in with the local police.





Surprisingly, the taxicab recognized him as we were strolling by. As is the norm here, so I am told, at the time of Tim’s run in with the police they took a laptop computer from him as a part of the items he had in his personal possession. In trying to retrieve his personal items at a later date, Tim was told it was this taxicab driver that stole it from him. In reality the story was just the opposite. Here there is no real crime just corruption and this is one example of it. Fortunately this gentleman has promised to help Tim get his computer back.




2015-01-21 14.41.21



An unusual introduction to Transnistria but it demonstrates how it's citizens have little trust for government officials. Here I am told there is also little interest in the political system because of the way the government works. Similarly, I read that in Chisinau it took three attempts to elect the Prime Minister because voter turnout was below that required for the election process.

From the train station it is a short walk into town and I need to lighten my load so we hop on the No.2 bus for a ride to my apartment for the night. Although on the outside many apartment buildings look dilapidated on the inside can be a completely different story.


2015-01-22 00.28.17My apartment is in the process of being renovated and although a bit colorful it is still more than adequate for me for one night.

I enjoy the experience of being accommodated like a local.





Back on another bus and we hop off at one of the famous parks in the city. Mostly deserted this time of the year, however, over fifty years of Soviet amusement park history is still here.




2015-01-21 15.22.02



With rides made of mostly cast iron they will probably still be here for another thousand and fifty years. Famous among the rides here is a Ferris wheel similar to the one at Chernobyl although this one does not have a glow to it.



IMG_0001From the park we take a stroll towards Transnistria University which was founded by a Ukrainian poet.

Even today there is still a close bond between Transnistrians and Ukrainians.






Near the university we stop at a bakery/cafe that is popular with students because of it's cheap quart size beers. We both have hot tea while I sample a local pastry filled with potatoes.



2015-01-21 15.51.11



A stop at a souvenir shop then we pause a few minutes in front of the Transnistria Central Bank where they print “Monopoly Money”. The currency here is very controlled and can be pretty much only used and exchanged here.

To my surprise some of the best Cognac in the world is produced here. A bottle that would cost you about 40 euros elsewhere can be purchased here for about 2 euros.



2015-01-21 16.52.21Not knowing much about the Orthodox faith, I find it a very cool learning experience when we visit the Christmas Church.

Built in 1999 this church is a part of the Moldovan Orthodox Diocese.




Taking in the works of art which I am told was painted by Transnistria University students is amazing as I listen to a beautiful and harmonic sound that echos from a hidden choir.




2015-01-21 17.13.09



From the Christmas Church we take a short walk to visit a few on Tiraspol more notable monuments which are less than a ten minute walk away.

For me, the most sobering one of these monuments is a memorial similar to Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Just a few feet from an old Soviet tank an “Eternal Flame” burns for about one thousand soldiers who lost their lives during a 1990's war with Moldova.

Just across the street from this memorial is one of the largest remaining statues in the world of Vladimir Lenin former Soviet Union communist leader. For some perceived security reasons pictures of this statue can only be taken from across street as the Parliament Building is in the background. Although some believe close up pictures cannot be taken because they might capture government workers doing nothing.



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tear Gassed, In Kosovo



2015-01-27 17.30.20After a double border crossing and picking up passengers along the way we arrive in Pristina in the early afternoon. Stepping from the bus into the cold air of a small but busy bus station I approach a local passenger from the bus for some guidance in visiting Pristina.



As I am having this conversation I am joined by another passenger who is seeking basically the same information. We are told we have picked an interesting day to visit Pristina as a big protest is planned in the city. This seems like a good way to get a pulse of the city and peaks my interest. My first destination in Pristina is determined.

Overhearing our discussion another passenger from the bus joins in and he offers to guide myself and the other passenger around the city. As outsiders neither one of us could have asked for a better situation and we get a great education about Kosovo along the way. 



2015-01-27 13.30.26On our walk to the city center my attention is drawn to a tall building in the distance with a larger than life size billboard with a smiling face on it.




Approaching the building it all makes some sense as stories beneath this billboard is a statue of none other than former US President, Bill Clinton.

President Clinton along President Bush and NATO forces were all instrumental in freeing Kosovo from Serbian aggression and “ethnic cleansing”.



2015-01-27 13.43.09At a new Catholic cathedral on Bill Klinton Blvd we cross the street and continue toward the area for this afternoon's planned protest.

We pass small groups along the street with a few group members carrying Kosovo flags.



Soon we arrive in an area where a larger crowd has assembled and the activity level has picked up. I find it interesting that across the crowd from us a bright yellow cat with big white teeth is smiling down on us from a building where it is painted.

Standing on the perimeter of the crowd our guide for the day, Max, is determining our next course of action as he is trying to navigate us to the Kosovo Museum. Our direct route to the museum is now blocked by the protestors.

As he is contemplating this the activity level of the crowd intensifies and in what seems like a split second later shots of tear gas are fired in our direction.

A stampede of hundreds begins and a big part of it is headed our way. With a jump now in my heart activity the only thing I can think to do is run and that is exactly what I do as I watch a few people fall and almost get trampled.



2015-01-27 14.04.10



Soon my eyes are burning and a nasty taste fills my mouth as my breathing begins to labor. The air is now filled with the irritating gas even as we have moved away from the initial dispersion area. A man who apparently was closer to this area passes us with bright red blood shot eyes. There is a bit of panic in the air as ambulance and police sirens can be heard wailing across the city.

We have seen enough and Max works on an alternate route to get us to the museum. Although crowds are gathered along our new route the intensity and protesting level is a bit more subdued than at the focal point.


2015-01-27 14.24.25We eventually make it to the Kosovo museum where Max says his good byes but gives an invite to his home in Montenegro at anytime.

I promise that I will take him up on that offer.




Admission to the Kosovo Museum is free and although its displays are simply they tell a sad part of Kosovo's history. The “ethnic cleansing” that took place here up into the late 1990's is ridiculously sad. As we get ready to leave the museum I find the main entrance door is locked. I am standing there for a few minutes when an employee approaches and informs me that the museum is closing early because of the protesting activities going on in the city.




2015-01-27 14.50.53Guns Of Kosovo War


It takes some navigation around unknown streets and through a city park to avoid the protesting that is still going on. However, taking Max's advice we head back towards the university but I am surprised that some of the protesting activity has now moved in that direction. Late into the afternoon the air is still filled with gas and the crowd now at the intersection of Klinton and Bush Blvd has grown larger.

Although at first this seems like an obstacle to getting back to the bus station some more off the main path navigation and soon enough I am enjoying a “Pita Pizza” with a delicious sausage topping.


2005-01-01 01.01.51Big snowflakes are falling as the bus station comes into sight and I think what a cool way to end what has been an exciting experience.






Monday, January 26, 2015

Transnistria, Tracked Down In Tiraspol


From what I think is time to kill, I do a little exploring around the train station while avoiding what seems like forbidden areas. Climbing a set of stairs puts me on a pedestrian bridge that crosses multiple tracks below.


2015-01-21 13.48.50Although there is an increased chill in the air, feeling like a “Lionel Kid” I stay for a few minutes to watch a Soviet made locomotive at work.





Back at our planned meeting point there are more than a few men hanging around who could easily be my tour guide. However, knowing only about two words in Russian I am hesitant to approach any of them but I have developed a plan if my guide does not show up.

In an email I was given an address and hotel name to use when I registered at the border crossing which I managed not to do. At this point I hope it is all valid information as my plan is to take a taxicab to the address if all else fails.

In making my arrangements to meet under these conditions I thought for sure that when I arrived in Tiraspol I would standout like a sore thumb among the locals. Before leaving Chisinau I did send an email picture of myself but I am not sure if it was received.

Another ten minutes of waiting and I hear my name in a question form being called from less than fifteen feet away. The whole time I had been pacing in and around the park so was my guide.



2015-01-26 10.06.42To my surprise, apparently my smaller than usual backpack, black (fleece lined) cargo pants and knitted sock cap made me seem more like a local than someone he was expecting.




We laugh it all off until I tell him that I never registered at the border which is a requirement for visiting Transnistria.

I can see the wheels turning inside his head as Tim mulls this little dilemma over. In what seems to me to be said with a nervous smile Tim tells me, "we will worry about it later".

Friday, January 23, 2015

Moldova, To Transnistria



IMG_0744It seems like a very long night as I wait in the darkness of my Chisinau apartment for the familiar sound of my traveling alarm clock.

I am awake at 4:41am then 6:53am but at 9am I silence my alarm then I finally get up at 10am.



There goes some of my plans for the day as I have to make my way to the bus station by noon for my trip to Tiraspol.

Down str Ismail I navigate mud puddles from melting ice and snow before waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk. With the what I am told “crazy drivers” here, jaywalking is frowned upon and probably not the safest thing to do.

Along str Mitropolitul Varlaam the morning activities are brisk as various street vendors hawk their merchandise from food to clothing and probably everything in between.

Arriving at a very hectic bus station I make my way around the back entrance and with a little help find the ticket window where I must purchase my fare for Tiraspol.

Giving up about 37 leu, less than $3, I board for the most part except where covered in street mud a bright orange mini-van for about a one and a half hour road trip.


2015-01-21 12.05.15Here this time of the year there is not much change in the weather from day to day and the dull gray of winter still hangs over the city.





Looking through a big tear in the tint of my window provides an almost depressing contrast with the dreary buildings and bare vegetation that covers the landscape.

Going down the highway a set of oncoming lights flash at us and I am glad to see some local things are international. Just down the road is a “Bear Trap” and one unlucky victim has been caught. With still a long way to go and a short time to get there, soon our driver puts the “hammer down” .

Before long we nonchalantly pass through a few checkpoints before stopping at another one. Here a few passengers disembark and we wait for them before pressing on.

A few stops to drop off passengers at various points in the city and I began to get a little worried as I am soon one of two remaining. However, I have been given explicit directions to remain on the bus until the last stop and although I am not sure when that will happen I remain patient.


2015-01-21 14.09.34Soon a building comes into sight and I find some comfort in seeing it. It is the last stop where across the street from what is the train station another waiting game begins in a cold park.

I am here to meet a man I have only met by email.



Through both of our failings neither one of us knows what each other looks like but I do know he is the only foreigner living in Transnistria.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Moldova, In Less Than 48 Hours, Chisinau and Transnistria


Another pleasant flight across the Atlantic and with a thump we are shrouded in fog as our Boeing 767 makes an early morning landing in Munich, Germany.

A few hours later the fog still remains as I am again airborne for a one hour and forty minute flight this time en-route to Chisinau, Moldova. My journey to Chisinau started a few years ago when my interest was peaked by a colleague into visiting Transnistria an almost unknown neighbor and one time foe of Moldova.


2015-01-20 05.26.33Arriving in Chisinau, although the weather outside under an overcast gray sky is frigid, a friendly smile along with a warm welcome from an Immigration Officer makes me glad that I am here to pursue my interest and satisfy my curiosity.



Although Chisinau Airport is rather small compared to many other capital city airports as I leave the Customs I am somewhat surprised by the openness and the amount of activity in the arrival area. At the information booth I find out about transportation to the city center after turning down numerous offers for a taxi.

At a favorable exchange rate of about 17 to 1, I now have the 3 leu that I need to take Bus No. 165 into the city. Although Bus No.165 is more of a mini-van than a bus I can live with this sense it is costing me about 20 cents instead of 20 Euro to get to my hotel.



2015-01-20 14.05.20It is about a 12km journey to the city and the scenery along way is about what I expected.

A cold gray veil still hangs over the city with less than fashionable Soviet era mostly square buildings decorating the landscape.



Despite their looks many of these buildings have stood the test of time and I have a feeling will continue to do so.

Interestingly, from pictures on the internet I recognize some of the buildings and exit the bus just pass Cosmos Hotel where I had considered staying for the night.


2005-01-01 02.20.28Back tracking in that direction and I soon find myself at the Grand Hall where an inviting sign pulls me in.

At Ayasofya Turkish Cafe I have a delicious feast for lunch finished off with a cup of hot and soothing black tea all for less than US$8.



A fifteen minute walk to Ismail 88 and after a checking in process which included surrendering my passport since I did not have a local phone contact, I am shown to my apartment for the night. A large bedroom and all the necessities I need for the night is not a bad deal for $24.




2015-01-20 18.45.47Arca de Triumf



Relaxed and with another layer of clothing to combat the falling temperatures I set out for a stroll around the city towards the Arca de Triumf.

Electronic Casinos and Electronic Stores with flashing lights including multiple cellphone companies seem to be abundant along the main street. Also on Stefan cel Mare are many of Chisinau government building and a concert hall where the works of Mozart will be performed.

In all of the busy night time activity of the street a few older gentleman still find solace in a tradition I think has gone on here for years, check mate.