MBA Peregrinations

Charting the course of my travels through the MBA experience.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Traveling - Solo or Not?

I'm back home now, and I cannot believe how surreal it feels. It is partially because my body is still adjusting to the time difference, but walking into my apartment after 7 weeks felt so strange. My brain told me that I had been here before, but there are cobwebs that need to be cleared from my memory of this place. I couldn't remember which key to use for my back door, nor could I recall the code to open my garage. Amazing how one's memory of everyday details does atrophy if not constantly put to use.

I thought a lot about my travels on the way home, and decided to post my thoughts on traveling solo versus with a companion. The first 2 weeks of my trip was spent on my own, the following 4 weeks was spent with R., and then the last week I was again by myself. There are so many factors to consider when traveling with someone, and I have to admit that I found R. and I were not ideal traveling buddies. This is not to say that we were completely at odds, compatibility is not black and white. There are ways in which we suited each other as traveling companions quite well and we definitely enjoyed many parts of the trip together, but we also had to take time apart from each other every so often. While I was completely prepared for the possibility of taking time apart, I thought I would put down in concrete terms (as much a reminder for myself as opining for others) what to consider when choosing a traveling companion.


R. and I were traveling on different budgets, which greatly affects not only what one sees but how one sees it. A lot of tourist attractions can be seen together, but certain experiences require different levels of spending. More in-depth tours or experiences come at an expense. For example, are you willing to spend extra for a tourguide that may give you a more meaningful explanation of the history and background of a castle instead of walking it on your own?

It also affects how one spends time. At times, the train will get you somewhere a great deal faster (not the case in all of Europe, though) than the bus, but will cost more. Doing laundry by hand to save money requires you to come back early enough to ensure that it dries, but means that you don't stay out in the city as late.

Accomodations are also greatly affected by how much one is willing to spend, and if solo or not. Usually, it is rather expensive to have one's own room when traveling solo. Budget accomodations are much easier to locate and less expensive for pairs or larger groups. But deciding on accomodation can be challenging when your price ceiling is different than that of your companion (especially when you are tired from traveling all day, have a heavy pack on your back, and just want to shower and rest). Are you willing to pay more for a central location or additional amenities?

I believe that R. and I made the effort to be considerate of each other's budgetary inclinations, but it still strained our travels every once in a while. Do not underestimate the importance of either finding someone with a similar budget, or clearly establishing expectations of what, where, how, and when if traveling with someone on a different budget. If it so happens that you cannot come to agreement with your potential or present companion, go it alone (better figured out before the trip actually begins to save on hassle).

Travel Style:

Do you like to visit museums, or would you rather take a walk around the neighborhood? Do you like to break up your day by visiting a cafe, or would you prefer to hit all of the attractions at once? Do you like to be spontaneous, or would you prefer to plan it all out? Do you like to get up early and hit the sights, or stay out late and sleep in? The answers will determine whether you have a traveling buddy that will actually like to spend time doing the same things that you do. R. and I did ourselves a great service by planning our itinerary in detail before the trip, but we still had differences in how we liked to spend our days. This is admittedly less straining than budgetary concerns. If you don't want to do what your travel buddy does, you can often split up and meet at the end of the day. But it does make life easier when you can get a discount ticket for two, or you feel safe enough to walk around late in the city because you have a companion.

These, IMHO, are the two big items to consider when choosing a travel buddy. I could go into many other smaller ones, but this post is long enough already.

I do not regret traveling with R. and am very glad that we shared this experience, but it is unlikely that we will travel together again based on our different styles. This experience has taught me that while it is pretty difficult to find someone that makes the ideal traveling partner, there are ways to compromise and to handle a less-than-ideal situation with grace and maturity. And despite the differences, R. and I had many an experience that was hilarious and entertaining, and will bring a chuckle and a smile to my face every time I think about it.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Last Full Day in Europe - Observations

Having traveled through five countries in the past seven weeks, I've had the opportunity to see many places and observe people (Europeans and fellow travelers) during my visit. Here is a collection of random observations from my trip:

Slovenians love to strike up conversations, are generous, and have a great sense of humor.

Northern Croats seem more humble (possessing a quiet confidence) about the beauty of their surroundings than Southern Croats. They are also more helpful to visitors.

Hungarians are extremely helpful and kind. Perhaps its related to the difficulty in foreigners learning and communicating in Magyar, but people went out of their way to assist. Our first train ride into Hungary, the clerks at the small station in Gyekenyes spent about 15 minutes trying to communicate the info for the connecting train. When our train came, one of them came out of her office to ensure that we caught it.

Europeans are more open about sexuality than Americans. Sex is not taboo, and public displays of affection are commonplace. They are also much more accepting of different body shapes and sizes. In general, people are less obese here than in the States. But a man or woman with a figure that is not ideal is not confined to wearing loose clothing, nor feeling ashamed of his or her body. Don't get me wrong, there are folks walking around with coiffed hair and perfect figures. But women don't need to have large breasts to wear a tight top, and men don't need to have a six-pack to go without a shirt. To me, this makes people seem more human. Like the facade of having the ideal figure is unnecessary and you can just be shaped how you are. Clothing also reflects the openness to different shapes, as people are much more experimental and daring in their fashion picks (compared to the comfortable yet boring jeans and monotone shirt couture of Northern California).

I met a lot of Aussies and Brits in the hostels, and it is quite common for them to travel for 6 months at a time. Plenty of Aussies get a 2 year work permit for the UK, and then are able to travel for an extended period of time before or after. A lot of them didn't realize that such a long vacation is unheard of in the States, and that it was quite unusual for me to have a 7 week trip.

That's all for now. Early tomorrow morning, I head off to the airport to spend the day in airplanes on my way home...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hungarian Favorites

Meggyleves - A cold sour cherry soup that, it turns out, is sweet and very refreshing on a hot summer day.

Gyógyfürdő - A Hungarian bath house, which I visited at the suggestion of Wakechick. I picked Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő (Check out the pictures in the gallery. Yes, it really does look like that).

The Opera House - Its a beautiful building, and I hope to return to Budapest one day to watch an opera there.

Széchenyi Lánchíd - On a summer evening, there are swarms of people enjoying the cool air from the Danube in addition to the music festivals and food.

Citadella - Located in Buda, its a hike to get to the top. But, the view of Budapest from up there is spectacular and well worth it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Le V on Crack

I just left Gerbeaud. After a Cointreau torte and an iced coffee (which turned out to be a coffee shake with ice-cream), Le Voyageur is buzzing - wooooohooooo!

Given the copious quantities of sugar and caffeine running through my bloodstream, this post may be a bit attention deficit disorder heavy (more so than usual).

Budapest is an architecture lover's dream. One really cannot turn a corner without seeing another magnificent edifice built in the style of Renaissance, neo-Gothic, Baroque... Amazingly enough, these buildings are not just churches, museums, or the Parlament. You can enjoy Roman columns or cherubs on the ceilings while sitting in a bank, hotel, or apartment complex.

Magyar is easy on the ears. Some languages sound really harsh to me, but Magyar is quite melodic and pleasant (except when spoken by screaming schoolkids on a train, but no language does well under those circumstances).

This is the last week of my trip - I've started thinking about my return back to California and realizing how much I have to take care of - packing and moving to Chicago being the next big thing. I doubt that I'll be so prolific in my posting when I get back. Packing boxes isn't nearly as exciting to write (or read) about.

Alright, time to vibrate away from the keyboard and burn off some of the jet fuel in my system.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Budapest - Color Me Impressed

Without really trying, I managed to take in a lot of culture today. My first day in Budapest has blown me away.

I started out the day by crossing west over the Duna (Danube) to Buda. Budapest is split by the river into the 'Buda' and 'Pest' parts of the city. I started out by walking through the Vienna Gate in old town and heading towards Mátyás Templom. After checking out the Church and the Halászbástya, I had lunch at a cafe - sangria and a BIG SALAD. Ah, heavenly oasis of salad in meat-crazed desert of Eastern Europe...

Then I headed to Magyar Nemzeti Galéria (Hungarian National Gallery). As I am checking out the art, I walk into the cupola. Lo and behold, a classical music performance is being held inside the gallery. Being a bit bummed this morning to learn that the Hungarian Opera was on summer break, I was quite happy to stumble across the Hungarian choir performing compositions by Liszt, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, Dvorák, and Bartók among others. They were singing in many different languages - Deutsch, Latin, Magyar, English, Slovakian. I sat next to a Hungarian woman and struck up a conversation. She didn't speak much English, and I spoke no Magyar, but we managed to communicate. After the concert, she introduced me to her daughter (one of the singers in the choir) and we chatted for a few minutes. Her daughter spoke English, and she told me that the choir was traveling to Bonn for their next performance. Magyars have been the friendliest Europeans I have encountered so far on my trip. Highest hit rate in terms of complete strangers helping you out and being kind.

After the museum, I went down to Széchenyi Lánchíd (Chain Bridge - the major pedestrian bridge that links Buda and Pest). While snacking on a delicious cinnamon kürtőskalács, I listened to a jazz band that was playing in the square. After that I wandered into Pest a bit further, and followed the lively music I heard to watch performances being held as part of the Duna Karnevál. Magyar Folk, Romani and Transylvanian Gypsies, and even Folklorico dancers from Mexico (the last act, and the one that the crowd went wild over).

I managed to use up all of the battery power in 2 camera batteries today, the first time that has happened. What a great first impression Budapest has made on me...

First Few Days in Hungary

Its great to be in a new country, but I am screwed on the language. The few words I've picked up in the Slavic languages won't do me any good here - Magyar is completely different (it is one of the Finno-Ugric languages, and the closest relatives are Finnish and Turkish).

I'm now in Budapest, and darn glad to be here. Pécs and Keszthely were okay, but I've been having accomodation problems for the past several nights. We managed to find a decent place in Pécs just outside city center after a tiring and circuitous walk with our heavy packs. The place in Keszthely was close to the train station (a plus when you have to walk with your pack), but it was a dump - the sorriest excuse for a pension I've ever seen. Deserted, peeling paint on the walls, and bugs everywhere. Ever woken up in the middle of the night to a mosquito buzzing in your ear? Not fun. Neither is flailing your limbs while performing the morning ablutions to prevent being eaten alive by the buggers (though I'm sure its amusing to watch).

After a long and painful 4.5 hour train ride (the schoolkids on the trip to Budapest decided to sit in the same train car), I got to my hostel late last night. I managed to (again) pick kind of a dumpy place, but scoped out another one last night and moved over there this morning. I will now hopefully stay put for at least a few nights. After switching locations continuously for the past several nights, I just want to park it.

Off to explore Budapest...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Last Day in Croatia

The last few days have been very busy - two full day trips (Kornati Islands and Plitvice National Park). The trip to Kornati was interesting to say the least - doing shots with a bunch of crazy Slovenians on the upper deck of our tiny boat. One of them spoke English quite well, and it was enough to establish instant rapport with the California girls. The islands of Kornati were the least interesting part of that trip.

Quite the contrast with Plitvice. There are some places on earth that are simply magical and you find yourself blessed to have seen them. Plitvice is one of those places. Waterfalls, lakes, surrounded by nature in its prime. Gaia outdid herself on this one.

Today is my last full day in Hrvatska, which I've spent exploring Zagreb. Tomorrow morning, I hop on a train to Pécs, Hungary.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Foreign Food, Itchy Arms

As one can imagine based on one or two previous posts, I really enjoy trying foreign foods. Not only do I take pleasure in sampling the local cuisine, but also the local interpretations of cuisine considered foreign. So I try to hit a range of eating establishments - nice restaurants, street vendors, and occasionally the local McDonald's (the McAloo Tikki Burgers at McDo's in Delhi are quite tasty).

Tonight, I had 'Italian' food here in Zadar. I ordered a tomato soup, vegetables cooked in butter, and spaghetti with mushrooms. Sounds simple enough, right? So the tomato soup was tasty - it was much thinner than the stuff you find in the States and had a few pieces of risotto in it. The spaghetti with mushrooms actually had a brown sauce - similar to mushroom gravy (I was expecting your standard spaghetti marinara with mushrooms). And the vegetable was something called 'mangold', a local veggie that my waiter described as similar to spinach. It was green and leafy, but closer to bok choy leaves in my opinion. A bit more roughage than spinach provides; this makes sense after doing a web search and finding out that mangold is used primarily as animal feed [insert Homer Simpson drooling sound here]. The taste was... well, buttery. It was DRENCHED in butter, and mixed with potatoes. Ah, buttery potatoes. A reminder that even the 'Italian' food here reflects the Eastern European love of the potato.

While many encounters with foreign cuisine are hit or miss, some are occasionally harmful. Both R. and I managed to get an allergic reaction to seafood that we consumed in Dubrovnik a few days ago. I have never before had such a reaction to seafood, so I'm not really sure what happened. R. had a seafood ravioli, and I had grilled seafood. In accordance with quantity consumed, R. now has a small rash on her foot and near her knee. I have a huge and very itchy rash up and down the length of my arms.

So far this trip, I have managed to get pollen allergies, catch a cold and fever with a cough, get ravaged by mosquito bites, and have an allergic reaction to seafood. The plague isn't around anymore, right?

Full Length Towels Rock

Today was an action-packed day. Hopped on a bus from Split to Solin to check out Roman Ruins. There were plenty of sarcophagi and an amphitheater; the rest of the ruins pretty much were too torn up to resemble the original structures. On to Trogir, where there was a lovely church and town square, and a fortress that afforded a great view of the city. Another lengthy bus ride took us to Zadar, where we have so far visited a round (Byzantine structured) church, the church museum, and a Franciscan Monastery.

Perhaps it was the beautiful weather today or the general congeniality of people in Zadar, but I dig this place. Everyone has been friendly and helpful, we managed to find a reasonably priced private accomodation, and R. dug up what may be the only trip to Kornati (National Park composed of several islands) for tomorrow. Total opposite of our experience in Split.

In Split, a lot of people were downright rude. I tried to ask the lady at the bus station kiosk about tickets, and she was extremely curt. Her standard answer was "I don't understand" in Croatian. So I attempted to speak to her in Croatian, and she didn't even bother to look up from her book. Argh. Our accomodation in Split was kind of dumpy, didn't have hot water the second night of our stay, and was located right next to a loud resto. I was in quite a pissy mood this morning after dealing with bus kiosk-wench, a freezing shower, and a restless night of sleep.

But things are looking up. After walking around Zadar a bit, I had a nice hot shower and a dinner that did NOT consist of a sandwich or pizza grabbed from a street vendor. Perhaps its silly, but man did I appreciate the hot water and the full length towel provided. After cold water and hand towels, today was pure luxury.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Skipping Rocks in Bol

Today was spent hanging out in Bol on the western end of Brač, an island about an hour by ferry from Split. The ferry dropped us off in Supetar and Bol was an hour away by bus. Bol was not as tourist-laden as Supetar, and we spent the day relaxing. Sitting on a rock, with our feet in the water, and chatting. We also discovered that neither of us is particularly talented at skipping rocks. Rather uneventful, but a welcome change.

Tomorrow we visit roman ruins in Solin and Trogir, and then head off to Zadar. I picked up a book on Croatian history and have already seen some of the sights mentioned in it. Read about Solin and Trogir today, so tomorrow's sights should have a bit more significance.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Mayhem in the Rain

I decided to check out the walls of Dubrovnik a few minutes after finishing my last post, and ended up a wet rag. The walls are fantastic and provide a stunning view of Dubrovnik and the sea, more mysterious and poetic in the rain no doubt. R. and I became very adept at running in between the covered cupola-like structures positioned between open-air walls. Each of these small circular domes was no more than 2 meters in diameter, and provided respite from the rain for only a few people at once. At one point, it was pouring so hard that a group of French tourists rushed into one with us. There were 7 of them, so 9 of us were packed into this little dome hoping for the rain to subside.

Stari Grad in Dubrovnik is chaotic in the rain. The streets flood, and traffic is ridiculously slow. By the time I got home after taking a bus part of the way and walking the rest, I was hoping that I wouldn't get sicker from being wet for hours.

Yesterday, the tide turned and the weather was perfect. No rain, sunshine and fluffy white clouds. The weather gods smiled upon us for our visit to Mljet Island. We ended up eating our lunch while soaking our feet in Veliko Jezero (Big Lake), and then hiked around Malo Jezero (Small Lake). It was a relaxing and lovely day.

Today, the rain came back with full force. It is about 1pm and it just settled down. Unfortunately, my hopes of frolicking in the sea here will go unfulfilled. Despite the rain having stopped, it is still cloudy and quite chilly. And we are looking to leave tomorrow for Split. The closest I will get is to stare longingly out at the sea from this internet cafe (right next to the beach!)...

Monday, June 06, 2005

Delightful Dubrovnik

R. and I decided to go with a boarding house recommended by Lonely Planet. We had called the place from Pula to book ahead, and are pleased as punch with the sobe (room). It is in Lapad, west of Dubrovnik, with a nice view and our own bathroom (score!). The owners are very friendly and helpful, and we have already decided to stay an extra night.

Unfortunately, it is pouring rain today. I woke up to a downpour this morning. When it stopped, we ran some errands and then hopped a bus to Stari Grad (Old Town) where the famous walls of Dubrovnik are located. I am very glad that I decided to wait to walk the walls, because I'd be soaked if I were there right now.

I really hope that the weather cooperates tomorrow, as we have already booked our tickets for a ferry to Mljet Island.

My health has been improving but I still have a nasty cough. I've been swigging cough syrup (a swig is about 1 tablespoon, right?) that I picked up in the pharmacy at Pula (with broken Croatian from me and broken English from the pharmacist, coughing, and gesturing to my throat).

If everything goes well, I'll be healthy and frolicking in the ocean on a sunny day in Dubrovnik very soon...

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Cool Cafe in Pula, Hrvatska

Certain names of cities and countries outside of the States don't always match up to how they are spelled or pronounced within the States. For example, what we call 'Munich' in the States is actually 'München' in Germany. Not quite the same, but not too far off. I am at a loss as to how we got 'Croatia' from 'Hrvatska'.

Anyhow, I'm sitting in a cool cybercafe in Pula, Hrvatska/Croatia. Its part internet cafe, part lounge, part art exhibit. If I was in good health and not dressed all schlubby, I'd be sipping a cosmo instead of the hot tea that I'm downing right now.

I am officially a mess. My illness has morphed into a nasty, chesty cough and a runny nose. The mosquito bites that I got while circling Lake Bled are now extremely visible and swollen, so each of my arms and legs has multiple large pink welts. And I have a pile of tissues next to me. Nope, definitely not at one with my chic surroundings.

Pula is on the northern coast of Croatia at the end of the Istrian Peninsula. The city has many a Roman artifact, and yesterday I took a look at the Temple of Augustus and the Arch of Sergius. After checking out the Amphitheater later today, I am off to Rijeka (pronounced ri-yay-ka) to catch the ferry down to Dubrovnik, which is also on the coast but on the southern tip of Croatia. The mainland Croatian coastline extends over 1700 km - not counting the many islands that are peppered along the coast.

But before hitting the coast, I'm going to hit a pharmacy for some cough medicine...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sunny Day in Ljubljana

It is perfect weather here in Ljubljana today. Sunny, warm, with a gentle breeze. Unfortunately, I can't really enjoy it because I am rather sick. It is high allergy season in Europe right now, so I finally broke down in Bled and bought some Claritin (thank goodness the woman at the pharmacy spoke English). I thought I would be set, but I managed to catch a bug that same day. Fever, cough, congestion, the whole bit.

The last couple of days have been a blur because of it. On Monday evening, A. drove us around Koper and we visited downtown. Our evening ended with some tea and dessert at a cafe overlooking the Istrian peninsula. There was a storm in full force across the water - dark gray clouds and lightning streaks. Fantastic scenery while enjoying the balmy evening in Koper.

A. has been extremely kind and generous, and my experience here in Slovenia has been enriched by the stories, experiences, and insights of a local. He was born in Maribor, but lived much of his life in Koper on the coast of Slovenia close to Italy. He will be attending Haas this fall at my alma mater, and has an open invitation to be my guest in Chicago.

We stayed at his weekend house in Koper on Monday evening, and Tuesday he drove us to a small village near the coast and gave us background on the area. He was hoping to lunch at a gostilna in the village, but it was closed. Unfortunately, by the time we were done with that morning drive, I was myself done with. My fever had taken over, so I had to skip out on lunch and touring in Piran and stayed at the house to sleep. In the afternoon, A. drove us back to Ljubljana and we are here now for a few days.

Last night, I mustered up enough energy to go out and grab a bite to eat at an Iranian resto. Muhammed was very friendly and made a delicious chicken and lentil curry for me. It really hit the spot as I hadn't eaten since the morning.

Tomorrow we head out to Koper again to catch a bus to Pula, Croatia. My internet access may be quite spotty in Croatia as we are planning to visit some smaller towns. I was happy to find this fantastic internet cafe in Ljubljana, which has fast connections and plays American pop music from the 80s. Quite a surreal experience to write about the Istrian peninsula while listening to 'Word Up' by Cameo.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bled, Bohinj, and Postojnska Jama

Monday morning we took the train from Salzburg to Bled, Slovenia. The train ride was a bit painful - we were in the 'non-smoking' wagon of the train, but that doesn't mean much because only the cabin itself is non-smoking. One can stand just outside the cabin door and smoke, which the young'uns that were busy socializing and playing loud techno music were doing.

Spent Monday visiting Bled Castle and took a 1.5 hr walk around Lake Bled. Tuesday morning we met A. after a bit of trouble. We ended up at different tourist centers (the tiny town of Bled has 3), and R. and I had some difficulty reaching him. We had his mobile number, but public phones in Slovenia don't take coins. So we had to go to the post office to buy a calling card. Calling him from the phone booth was comical. Both of us inside the phone booth, wearing our backpacks and daypacks. R. and I are both relatively slim, but we had difficulty getting out after wedging ourselves in there.

So after meeting A., he drove us to Lake Bohinj. It is only a few kilometers from Bled, but much less touristy. We hiked a bit up a trail, and stopped at a spot uphill from the lake where rapids were flowing fast. By this point, it was pouring rain and I was soaked. So we enjoyed the spot and snapped a few pics, and then headed back. A quick change of clothes and we were off to lunch.

We ate at an organic restaurant - the best meal I have had so far. Small dishes, exquisitely prepared foods, combinations of seafood and vegetables (which I treasure a great deal in this part of the planet). After lunch we drove to Postojna to visit the Postojna Caves. R. and I had both wanted to see the Škocjan Caves, but according to A. they are difficult to navigate in the rain.

Postojnska Jama was quite impressive, though the entry was a bit strange. We took an open-air tram down into the caves. It felt like a really cold roller coaster ride. The initial ride down was nearly 10 minutes, so at one point I thought that the entire tour would be via roller coaster tram. But the walking tour itself was a bit under an hour, and well worth the visit.