Round the World

Monday 18th March 2019 – Maidenhead UK

I find returning home after a long trip a mixed blessing, on the one hand comfortingly nothing has really changed and we still have not sorted Brexit! On the other it is easy to be lulled back into old routines and patterns which new experiences from the trip could fracture and open up new possibilities. So whilst I ponder the deeper reflections on my trip and work out my next steps, I offer up some thoughts and observations from travelling to 18 countries in succession.

Plastic

Being itinerant and basically not cooking a meal for 11 weeks, I became very aware of the amount of single use plastic and other packaging that is associated with food on the go and also food waste. Despite new legislation particularly in India, there is a long way to go to reduce packaging and recycle more. As I moved out of Asia / India into Europe I certainly felt that there was more opportunity to decline over packaged goods and also a greater focus on recycling and finding new solutions.

Beach near Athens

Airport immigration 

  • Worst – JFK 2.5 hours at the start of my trip and Istanbul 1 hour 
  • Best – Tokyo – 2 minutes with extra staff poised to help if any line appeared 

Baggage

  • Best – Mumbai from Delhi – got off plane and walked c 5 minutes to the baggage hall and the bags were already going round
  • Worst – Berlin – the baggage hall was in sight of the airplane but still took over 45 minutes to start arriving
Oslo Fjord

Airport transfers to centre of town

  • Cheapest – Delhi Metro to Connaught Place price approximately 3 English Pence or about 4 US Cents
  • Most Expensive – Arlanda Express in Sweden! 

Water 

  • Least available tap water (in a country where the water is safe to drink) – Berlin – even though the water from the tap is perfectly safe to drink, no one seems to and restaurants are reluctant to let you have some as they like to charge about €6 per bottle!  
  • Most available – Stockholm and Norway – where you are encouraged to not use single use plastic bottles and there are always water fountains or jugs at every restaurant available to use for free. 
  • In Denmark they charge you for tap water in restaurants sometimes €3 or €4, but I learnt from my Danish friends that they cannot charge you if you go in and ask for it without ice! 
Berlin

Hotel amenities 

  • Great – Tokyo – the hotel gave us a ‘pocket wifi’ to use while we stayed in the city, you connected your devices to it and then carried it about with you so you were always online

Ticket processes for public transport

  • Worst – San Francisco BART – the machine was so confusing that we needed considerable help from a very kind local to work out how to choose the ticket and pay
  • Most trusting – Berlin S-Bhan – not a ticket barrier in site, you buy a ticket from the machine and validate it and there are no other checks (although I assume there must be occasional ticket inspector checks somewhere) – also if you have a monthly season ticket you can take a friend for free at the weekends or late evenings.
  • Challenging – everywhere that the machines were supposed to take bank notes – mostly they spat them back out as they did not like their texture, wrinkles or tears! 
  • Curious – Paris – the ticket machine has a strange roller you use to select what you want to buy and then you confirm with another button.
  • Frustrating – Istanbul – If you buy a single 5 Lira ticket for the Metro you cannot transfer between lines, an Istanbul Kart is a must.
Leaf in the woods in Conneticut

Transport Infrastructure

  • Worst – Manila – still very much work in progress
  • Delightful – Athens – you can take the tram from central Athens all the way through the suburbs and then along the coast to the beach all for €4.5 getting off and on as many times as you want during the day 
  • Crime challenged – Paris – the Metro seems to have a real problem with pick pockets – I nearly had my purse and phone stolen even with my backpack on my front rather than back, luckily I was alert to the guy ‘accidentally’ bumping me at a station stop and then realised what he was up to, but we met others who had not been so lucky.  

Cash or Card

  • Most cash based – Manila – you could not even pay by card in Seven Eleven stores, then Bangkok 
  • ATM Charges – Bangkok every ATM charges you at least £5 per transaction + any exchange rate charges 
  • Cash free – I survived in Oslo and Copenhagen completely cash free – the Nordics are particularly digitally enabled
Gardent at International House Japan

Useful Apps 

  • GRAB – where UBER is not in Asia – sometimes GRAB is and whilst the fare may be sometimes a bit more expensive at least it is negotiated for you 
  • Maps.Me – Has good downloadable offline maps for when you are not on WIFI

Most Musical Transport Systems

  • Tokyo – every subway station has a different jingle to signal arrival and the doors closing
  • Berlin – high quality buskers in the carriages

Pedestrian Crossings

  • Taiwan – the green man is animated and gets faster and faster to indicate that the lights will go red soon
  • Berlin – have East and West figures left over when there was an East and West Berlin – apparently, people like the East figures better so all lights will have these in the future
  • Athens – the lights assume that you can walk very fast as they change very quickly 
Thai temple roof

Visas 

  • I only had to buy visas for Turkey and India and ESTA for the USA
  • Everywhere else was visa on arrival or exempt as in EU or for short stays

Airport security

  • Worst – Mumbai international airport at 5am in the morning – one man supervising the scanner and people putting their stuff on the conveyor

Public cleanliness

  • Best – Tokyo – everything is super shiny and you see people cleaning all aspects of the subway and other public spaces 
  • Grubby – Paris – whilst not covered in litter Paris gives the impression of being dirty and in need of a good clean
  • Delhi and Mumbai – Mumbai is cleaner than it used to be but still commercial, building and personal waste and rubbish are still a major issue here and in Delhi. 

Walking

  • Most challenging – Delhi, not only because of the state of the pavements but also because of the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers looking for a ride or the young men who want to chat or sell you something the moment you slow your step or look like you don’t know where you are going 
  • Most challenging with wheelie luggage – Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki, which all had their winter gravel out to prevent pedestrians slipping but it makes wheeling a bag even short distances challenging.
  • Overall I walked most places in most cities rather than taking public transport, I love seeing the day to day life of people and how the different areas change. 
Rome

Postal Service 

  • Most challenging – Beirut very hard to find a post office that would send my cards, they did however arrive in the UK eventually
  • Most expensive stamp – Copenhagen, a whopping 30kr or £3.50 for a postcard stamp hotly followed by Stockholm, 21kr or about £2 for a postcard stamp, the Swedish postcard did arrive in the UK in 2 days so at least it was speedy
Hong Kong

Shopping

I was very struck by the sheer volume of shopping space currently in place and being built pretty much everywhere I visited but particularly in Asia. In fact I found it somewhat depressing, whilst economies rely on us buying stuff, I was left wondering if we really need so much stuff and imagining that so much of it would shortly find its way into landfill. The other trend which I found sad was the desire to move away from more traditional shops or street markets and bring everything inside air conditioned shopping malls. Although people may be more comfortable shopping in the cooled environment I think interaction and experience will be poorer for it.

Food

  • Best Mango – Bangkok
  • Best Fish – Hawaii
  • Best Carbonara – Rome
  • Best ‘seasonal bun’ – Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki where the Semla pre-Lent buns were in ‘season’, they involve a lot of cream and sugar so not really slimming
  • Fanciest meal – Mandarin Oriental for lunch with Larry Kwok – everything was delicious and beautifully presented
  • Bread and Pastries – as the world’s food seems to be over run by global brands, it is the bread and pastries that seem to stay local and loved in each county.

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