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30th (Sat)
Apr 2011

Lisbon, my old home country?

Well, it's time I rebooted this travelogue, isn't it?I'm going to write about the trip in Europe starting from this entry.

Lisbon, my old home country?Lisbon, the capital of Portugal is the first destination. I guess it's bit too sudden though, my grandfather is suspected of inheriting Portuguese blood; he could be a quarter Portuguese. In fact, he is always mistaken for an European when he goes abroad as he's got gray eyes which are quite unusual as a Japanese and his attitude is not really ordinary Japanese. Thinking about myself inheriting a little bit of Portuguese blood too, I was deeply moved by being in this country. As far as I know, I'm the very first one of my family members coming here.

Lisbon, my old home country?Lisbon is called the "City of the Seven Hills" and is famous for trams running through narrow slopes. Once you get used to it, the tram is quite useful for touring around the city as it's cheap and runs frequently. Nevertheless, it was not really safe in my case. When I was waiting for a tram inthe daytime, a local guy, showing a big map and speaking in poor English, asked directions from me who undoubtedly looked like a tourist. Being confused with this bizarre situation, I at first checked the map but soon realized that the hand of guy standing at the opposite side was moving suspiciously. Hell, he must have been trying to open my bag. A pickpocket team presumably they were. Waving my arms furiously I stared the guy and he seemed to give up butwe couldn't be careful enough in Europe since the possibility of being involved with such crimes like pickpocket, mugging and soon is much worse in Europe than the Middle East (and probably South America is the worst.)

Lisbon, my old home country?In order to protect myself from pickpockets, I mostly used breast pockets. My wallet was compact enough to fit in the pocket and it was too hard to miss the wallet picked from there. Alternatively, holding the actual items tightly was quite effective. Although some people use special under clothes to hide their valuables, I didn't really care about exposing mine for a short time. Anyway, I was a conspicuous tourist so an obvious target for mugging. Rather than wearing unstylish garments, I preferred using convenient breast pockets.

Lisbon, my old home country?Well, let's get back to the point. Lisbon was such a wonderful city that I can forget such a small accident. Especially for shooting street snaps, it was one of the best moments of this whole trip. Hydrants, street lights, laundries, any items on the streets were somehow very photogenic and I really enjoyed shooting them. Besides, unlike the Middle East, people passing by were used to cameras and didn't care about me photographing on the streets. I hadn't been able to take photos so freely for a long time.

Lisbon, my old home country?What's more, I liked the meals in Lisbon as this city had tasty seafood from the local port. Therefore I always had a seafood plate except for the very first day when I went for pork, (It had been literally impossible to find pork for a few month when I was in the Middle East). I had never imagined I could eat such a great grilled fish with salt which gets Japanese's heart. Besides, the price of seafood was incredibly cheap, almost the same or lower than meat though seafood at restaurants was usually too pricy for budget backpackers. Actually, the prices in Portugal were quite reasonable compared to the other Western European countries, and thanks to the fact I was so happy to savour tasty meals(with cold beer, of course).

I found that I can easily fit in well in Europe. Even though the Middle East had been a super interesting travel destination, Europe was more like a place for relaxing. Perhaps my Latin blood might have helped to me to fit in. Anyway the trip around whole of Europe was promising to be entertaining.

Entry Info

As I mentioned at the beginning of the previous entry, Istanbul is the meeting point of Asia and Europe. In other words, it's the city where all travellers on the Eurasia circuit get together. Because of this locality, there are many cheap hostels running and the more hostels that open the more they compete; eventually, the quality of hostels soars high. In fact, at hostelworld you can find many hostels which got more than 85points with the reviews. In my experience, if the hostel has more than 85points, they don't fail me. But there are too many nicely reviewed hostels to check out. Therefore, using Istanbul as a prime example, I'd like to describe my way how to choose hostels which meet my taste.

At the very first, I don't mind staying in dormitory rooms. Ideally, I prefer a 4 bed dorm room as it's quieter than the bigger rooms but it depends on the price of the rooms. What's more, a very important feature of the dorm room is that I give my top priority to sleeping in the mixed (both sexes) room. Mind you, I don't intend to chat up any beautiful girls. I hardly find attractive girls in the dorm rooms anyway. The reason why I choose the mixed dorm is, to avoid the men snoring so badly. You know some people are just as terrible as noise pollution. They even void my ear plugs. In contrast, most ladies are very quiet at night and I can sleep comfortably in the same room.

Ratings are probably the most informative factors. I usually start with checking about "Staff" value because I believe staff are the core to characterise the hostel. Although hostels can't compete with the decent hotels for their materialistic features such as the buildings and facilities for the cost issue, they can improve their soft services by their own hospitality. As I wrote before, such as Niras at Bangkok, Yashin's at Gyoreme, some people at nice hostel were very kind and willing to help travellers. In a way, they are the concierges for backpackers. Though they are quite frank and friendly, their kindness are on a par with the personal services from 5 star hotels.

Next point is, "Cleanness". You might think that cheap hostels cannot be clean but unexpectedly there are quite a few spotlessly clean hostels. Some hostels have dedicated cleaning staff who sweep the floor all day long. Luxury and cleanness are totally different; a simple room with bunk beds is comfortable enough providing the room is cleaned carefully. Maybe you should accept the cleaning lady entering your room in the late morning even if you are sleeping. It's much better than the messy room left from the cleaning schedule.

"Location" really depends on the city. If the city is small and everything is within a walking distance, it would be great to have the hostel in the central area. On the other hand, if the city requires using public transport all the time, not sticking to the location makes the choices wider and more valuable. For instance about Istanbul which is divided into the downtown and old city, I booked 2 hostels, each of them are nicely located in their own area.

Last but not least about the ratings, for me "Fun" should be low. Do you think it's strange to prefer lowly rated hostels? It's because of the clientele. Unlike Asian budget travellers, a significant number of Western travellers are crazy about drinking out and they are always talking about night clubs and pubs at the cities. The hostels which got high "Fun" rate are usually so called party hostels where the party animals congregate and sometimes staff lead their travellers to their local pubs. However, binge drinking and making noise are not my taste at all. In order to avoid this kind of people, I would often choose the less "Fun" hostel. As a result, I met some nice people who enjoy travelling itself and it was my pleasure to talk with them with some alcohol.

The reviews are just for extra information. I usually don't care about good reviews but bad reviews should be of concern. There are kind of inevitable accidents such as overbooking and broken something and I don't mind about them. However, if you find any security incidents happening often recently, you should consider using the hostel very carefully.

In terms of prices, I don't really care. Basically, the dorm rooms from hostelworld are reasonable enough. As you might have already understood my character, I'd rather choose a better hostel with some extra charge than stay at the cheapest yet dingy hostel. As a "first class backpacker", I'd like to stay at first class hostels.

Considering all of the factors above, the hostels I choose to stay at Istanbul is Chambers of Boheme and Agora Hostel. If you check out hostelworld, you'll see these hostels perfectly match my criteria. The hostels actually hit my spot and I can't state which is better.

Located off the street of the main shopping street Istiqlal downtown, is Chambers of Boheme; a Bohemian design boutique hostel as the name indicates. The ground and first floor are used as a stylish café and their breakfast included nicely brewed coffee from the café. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring our own food, I liked sitting on a classic sofa at the café and using my PC.

Agora hostel at the old city area boasts their ocean view terrace at the top floor. The breakfast buffet consists not only the basic foods such as bread, cereal, and egg but some rare foods for budget hostels like a variety of hams and homemade brownies. Besides, the area has many other hostels as well as some reasonable restaurants and I didn't find it difficul to eat out well.

Even though we say dorm rooms at budget hostels in a single word, there are actually so many types around the world, weird Japanese hostels, party hostels, boutique hostels etc. I recommend you check with yourself about your preference and follow the basic rules. In addition to this, it's sometimes interesting to stay at places different from your taste. Especially, after Istanbul, I mean Europe is the hottest area of hostels. I suppose even just browsing hostelworld and looking for hostels would be a great fun.

Entry Info

10th (Thu)
Jun 2010

[day104] A Short Stay in Amman

This time, we checked in to the Mansour Hostel which is located in the middle of the downtown area. As usual, this accommodation is favoured by Japanese travellers for the Asian only special price. The dorm room with free wi-fi and breakfast costs only 3JOD. Though the shower's water flow was not really good, we shouldn’t complain for this price. What’s more, a local person who really loves Japanese people was helping there and he gave a lot of information to us. All in all, it was a reasonably comfortable accommodation though I wouldn’t stay long like Dahab.

Since I hadn't been to such an urbanised city like Amman for a long time, I decided to go to a book café which many foreigners frequent. The café is on the upper floor of the stylish imported book store and surprisingly a security check with the guard is required in order to enter the store. The café is a sort of an oasis for the Europeans residing in Amman and its interior is absolutely cool. It reminded me of my favourite café in Tokyo. I just ordered a milk shake which cost 3.5JOD. I reckoned it was quite reasonable for the quality of their design and service but a glass of milk shake was indeed more expensive than a night in accommodation. Incidentally, the dinner on the day, full of Arabic meals, was merely 2JOD. In fact this was the most highest expense in Amman for me. Yet, it was also the most satisfying moment too. Thinking about this situation, prices are very thought-provoking. Well, I should stop this topic here otherwise I can keep pondering over this forever.

We decided to stay in Amman only 2 nights for a few reasons. Firstly, Amman is an Arabic city which is slightly more sophisticated than Cairo but according to the friends from Dahab, Damascus's old town should be more fascinating than Amman for its very long and complicated history. Also some people go to the Dead Sea starting from Amman but in terms of the Dead Sea, it's better to go from Israel side as it's cleaner and very importantly girls wearing bikinis are there! Therefore, we couldn't find any reasons to remain this city. The friend group from Dahab would be also divided to the one heading for Israel and another for Syria.

Incidentally, travellers planning to visit Israel on their Middle East journey usually go to the border connected to Jordan by King Hussein Bridge. As you know, Israel is still at war with some Arabic countries such as Syria and Lebanon and with the Israeli stamp on your passport, many Arabic countries would refuse to let you in to their lands. Especially, it is critical for the people who are planning to go up North by land as there are no way to avoid Syria and they have to fly in this case.

Hereupon the King Hussein Bridge is used for a kind of a trick. In fact Jordan has already normalised the diplomatic relationship with Israel and there should be no problems for coming and going. In addition to this, at only this border, you can ask "no stamp" to the officers and they put the all stamps related to the passport control on another sheet of paper. In this way, pretending not to enter to Israel, you can technically enter Syria afterwards. Be wary not getting the stamps from the Jordan side as well for the concrete alibi. Also some seals will be put on your passport and luggage for security reasons when you enter Israel and you must remove them very carefully as the officers at the Syrian border would inspect for the trace of the seals only. (This information is based on a story on April 2010. The circumstances could easily change due to the international situations. Therefore, please refer to the fresh information, especially from the travellers onsite, when you make an actual trip.)

Speaking about myself, I was planning to go to the other Middle Eastern countries first and fly to Israel from Turkey as I didn't want to be bothered by the complicated stamp process. Thus, I joined the group going to Syria. As a matter of a fact, I didn't know that I was going to have a little problem entering to Israel but please wait for this moment. I'll write about it later.

From Petra to Amman, we used a shuttle bus (5JOD) which comes in front of the hostel on the morning of the departure if we make the reservation beforehand. It's a snap isn't it? Dozing off on the bus for two hours, we arrived at the bus station located on the outer edge of the city. From here, we had to find the next transportation by ourselves and as usual started negotiating with the taxi drivers waiting there. They offered us 1JOD each person to any accommodations in the down town area.

Well, is it cheap or not? We didn’t have the faintest idea of the local market price and nobody would tell us about it. In this situation, the only thing I can rely on is in fact my own instinct. Although some people always try to bargain the price negotiating for hours, to be blunt, it's the same difference with 1JOD or 0.8JOD, just waste of the time. Therefore, for the less stressful negotiation, I always try to judge with only my values. Besides, I don’t want to exploit the local people by settling on a too cheap price. It is reasonable to pay 1JOD for transportation in an unfamiliar city.

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