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Port au Prince - Atlanta

The long journey home


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Today is going to be a very long day. Having got up at 04:20 to travel to the airport, we are dismayed to find that when we get there the terminal building is not even open yet, and there is already a long queue of passengers outside waiting to get in.

A small team of officials are on hand to ensure we all form an orderly queue, and to quickly admonish any would-be queue-jumpers. Suddenly there is a hive of activity, and before we know it, a porter grabs our bags and leads us past the long line of waiting passengers and in through the door. Although I am a little embarrassed by the unexpected and somewhat unnecessary VIP treatment, I am not exactly doing anything to prevent it happening either.

At the Delta check in desk I am told that Ram Ram – our beautifully wrapped wall sculpture (see yesterday's entry for details) – has to travel in the hold, and that it is going to cost me $108 through to London. I quibble that we have a free second bag from Atlanta to London and it can't possibly cost that much just from Port au Prince to Atlanta. She argues that this is the cost. We battle back and forth for some time, with me insisting to speak to the supervisor, and her insisting she is the supervisor.

Eventually, after a lot of pleading, shouting and threatening, I 'throw my toys out of the pram'. The supervisor agrees to let me try to take Ram Ram as hand luggage but warns that I am likely to be stopped at the gate and sent back to check him in. It is a risk I am willing to take, and we move on to obstacle number two: security screening (which also is not open yet). When we finally get to the front of the queue, Ram Ram is no problem at all and we breathe a sigh of relief.

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At passport control David and I go to different booths, and I am through in no time. I sit down at the gate to wait for David, and I am surprised at how long he is taking. It turns out that because we are travelling through the US, he is asked for the ESTA form (Visa Waiver Program). Despite having checked our ESTA for the security check before even being able to join the queue for check-in, as well as during the actual check-in process, and the boarding card being denoted with that fact; they won't let David go without seeing his physical ESTA form (so much for it being an Electronic System for Travel Authorization; thankfully had the sense to print it out!). There is, however, a slight problem there: I have that form and David has no way of contacting me to come back for him. Oops. They finally let him through, albeit reluctantly.

I think they have just delivered my consignment of Duty Free rum.

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When it is time to board the aircraft I notice that the same lady who checked us in is on duty and I do wonder if she is going to block Ram Ram for the sake of it so 'save face'. She doesn't. Ram Ram gets taken off for special screening, but is found to be harmless and he is allowed onto the aircraft with us. The crew put him in the coat cupboard in the first class cabin for the flight – they all love him.

Security Checks

In order to get as far as the aircraft seat we have had a number of checks, as follows:

1. Passport and tickets checked in order to be allowed to enter the terminal building.

2. Passport and ESTA documents closely examined before being allowed to join the queue for check in.

3. Passport, ticket and ESTA inspected on check-in.

4. Boarding cards checked at security, shoes off, bags x-rayed and passengers screened.

5. Passport control – passport and boarding card for me, plus the aforementioned ESTA check for David.

6. Passport and boarding card at the gate.

7. Manual pat-down and bag check before being allowed to board the plane.

8. Boarding card check on entering the plane.

Port au Prince - Atlanta

The flight is unremarkable, we have three seats for the two of us and can spread out.

At Atlanta there is a long queue for immigration, and David yet again doesn't pass through the automated self-check, but we have plenty of time (nearly six hours) here, so it doesn't really matter.

At least we don't have to collect our checked in luggage – as a 'favour' the supervisor in Port au Prince checked our bags in all the way to London (I didn't even know that was possible), and gave us a 'golden ticket' to show to staff here.

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We are not even given a second glance at customs in to the US, but as usual the body scanner causes all sorts of issues. The scary thing is that my panty-liners showed up but not the mobile phone I'd forgotten in my pocket!

At Homeland Security Ram Ram is undressed and re-dressed by a charming official with a sense of humour (they are few and far between!). He is even swabbed for drugs but again found to be completely innocent. The possibility had occurred to me that maybe the artist had been using drugs and some traces had somehow remained on the sculpture, but I needn't have worried. Ram Ram even gets a 'seal of approval' in the form of an 'INSPECTED' tape.

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After our last Atlanta Airport dining experience on the way back from Haiti in February (Read all about the most expensive pizza we ever ate here), we head straight for the airport train and the Food Court at Terminal E - still with Ram Ram in tow.

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We settle for a TGI Friday's, where David is delighted to find they serve cider! Of course that is a pure coincidence, we don't read the menus of all the restaurants to check before deciding where to eat. Much.

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The food is pretty good too, we both have Sizzling Chicken and Cheese, and it is nice to have mashed potato for a change rather than the ubiquitous fries which come with almost every meal in the hotel restaurants in Haiti. The bill is a fraction of what we paid last time too, so we are on to a winner here.

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Later we even stop for a cinnamon bun, but although it is nice, it is just not a Cinnabon!

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After a long and boring wait here at Atlanta, we finally get to board the Virgin Airways flight for the next leg of the journey home, just as the sun goes down.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:06 Archived in USA Tagged flight caribbean tickets atlanta delta air_travel passports haiti port_au_prince security_check voyages_lumiere delta_airways passport-control homeland_security virgina_airlines Comments (1)

London Heathrow - Atlanta - Port au Prince, Haiti

We've arrived, with even more goodies than we set out with.


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Never before have we travelled with so much luggage! Normally when we travel, we park at an off-airport long-term car park and take advantage of their valet parking deal, where we just drive up to the terminal, jump out of the car with our luggage, and someone else takes the car away to park it. This time we decided to get a hotel the night before as the flight departs so early. We stumbled across a great deal with a 'mystery' hotel and parking for the week for less than we normally pay for just the parking. The 'mystery' hotel turned out to be the Hilton at Terminal 5 (and very nice it was too), but as we are flying from Terminal 3, it means getting the Hotel Hoppa bus from the hotel to T5, then the Heathrow Express train to T3. With four large bags, two rucksacks and a camera bag. At 05:00 in the morning.

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The check-in girl at Virgin Atlantic Airways is delightful, and when we tell her all about the donations we have received to take over to Haiti with us for the victims of Hurricane Matthew, she waves the fee for checking in an extra bag each. Well done Virgin!

The flight is not full, so we are able to spread out and have a row of seats each.

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Approaching Atlanta

We chat to the crew on board, and tell them about the good deed their colleagues on the ground did this morning by allowing us to carry the disaster relief for free, and amazingly they return with a large bag of goodies for us to take: blankets and toothbrushes/paste. Virgin Atlantic really does rock!

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The US is the only place in the world that I know of where you have to collect your luggage and re-check it even if you are on a connecting international flight. The customs officer brusquely asks: “What is all this?” pointing at our four large suitcases. “Clothes” I reply. After ascertaining that we are not carrying any food, he lets us pass and we can get rid of the main bags again.

The full body scan turns into a bit of a palaver, as even my silk scarf and empty money belt show up and I am asked to remove both. When trying to get it off, the money belt gets tangled up in my bra and they reluctantly allow me to just hold it to one side and do the scan again. I then get a full pat down and with all the distraction and fluster, I leave my scarf behind. I don't discover it until we get to the gate, and it's a long way back via the inter-terminal train and in through a NO ENTRY sign. David really is a star for going back to collect it for me!

While waiting at the gate, our name is called and we discover that we have had our seats re-allocated on the next flight – we again have a row to ourselves! Well done Delta!

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Pouchon, our driver, waits for us by the luggage carousel at Port au Prince, and whisks us through the dark streets of the capital to our hotel.

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Thanks to my Facebook friends' generosity, over a thousand items of clothing (from babies, toddlers, children, teens to adults) came over with us to help out the victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.

We also took some shoes and hats, toiletries, feminine products, space blankets and enough water purification tablets to make 20,000 litres of clean water.

Our friend Jacqui in Haiti (who runs the local tour agency Voyages Lumiere) agreed to take in the collection, so we leave the bags in the car for Pouchon to take to her house.

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Through one of her contacts who runs a bus service, Jacqui has been able to get free transport for the bags to the severely affected areas in the south.

Another friend of hers is a doctor who spends a couple of days a week treating the poor for free; and he has agreed to be the co-ordinator and distributor in the stricken area, making sure the items go to the most needy.

Many of my friends also gave us money to help out the victims; and I am delighted to say that with the addition of funds we would otherwise have spent on the two extra bags, we collected $750. In Haiti we received a refund from our tour operator for unused services (after an itinerary change) that we added to it, and after topping it up with some extra, we have made it a grand total of $1000!

The aforementioned doctor is also currently administrating a project to fit new roofs to houses damaged by the hurricane, which is where we decided to direct the money we collected.

So thanks to my very generous Facebook friends, at least TEN families will received a roof over their heads; as well as hundreds of people getting new clothes! I am absolutely humbled and extremely grateful to be able to organise this. Well done the power of Facebook!

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Our bags are now looking decidedly empty, so I guess I shall have to do some shopping while we are here in Haiti.

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We just dump the luggage in the room and head for the bar for a cold, refreshing Prestige Beer and a light dinner.

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Meatlover's pizza

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Terrace burger

What's a girl gotta do when she asks for a cappuccino after her meal, but they have run out? Order a Piña Colada of course!

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Before signing off for today there are a lot of people I have to say a “Thank You” to:

Voyages Lumiere for arranging this trip

Jacqui for agreeing to be our local coordinator for the aid we brought over

Dr Robert for helping to distribute the goods in the south as well as arranging the new roofs

My Facebook friends for their generous donations

Virgin Atlantic for allowing free passage of the suitcases as well as the large goodie bag

The world truly is full of beautiful people.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:52 Archived in Haiti Tagged beer travel us usa hurricane pizza aid atlanta luggage heathrow delta burger virgin_atlantic facebook haiti piña_colada port_au_prince #selfieless selfieless hurricane_matthew hurricane_relief voyages_lumiere haiti_relief hurricane_mathew aid_work aid_relief hotel_le_plaza le_plaza hilton_terminal_5 atlanta_airport us_customs body_scanner prestige_beer Comments (0)

Danube Delta - Galati - Moldova - Chișinău

The end is nigh

sunny 34 °C
View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Setting the alarm early to see if I can catch the sunrise was well worth it – the river is bathed in a beautiful light this morning as the sun peeks up through the mist.

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It’s not even eight o’clock in the morning and it is already blisteringly hot as we walk down to the jetty to wait for our boat out of the Delta. This region of Romania has not seen a drop of rain since June and farmers are getting desperate.

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The early ferry back to the mainland seems to be attracting a lot of passengers.

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Thankfully it is a much bigger boat this time

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We sit outside on deck, next to a group of Russian men with a couple of youngsters (sons?). They start drinking as soon as they have boarded (as well as chain smoking – it seems to me that everyone here does!), and get louder and increasingly more annoying as the morning wears on.

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There is not a great deal to see along the shores of the canal, especially not once we get to the end of the linear village of Crișan.

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Little Egret

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Common Gulls

So many of life’s necessities here in Crișan and other similar villages in the Delta, have to be brought in from the mainland – including farm equipment, building materials, furniture etc.

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The ferry is most people’s lifeline here, and we make a few stops along the way.

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Andrei enjoys a spot of sunbathing.

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The canal-side offers some inviting beaches, where we see people picnicking and fishing.

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The arrival at Tulcea heralds the end of our Danube Delta adventure.

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Andrei shows us the map of the Delta and where we went on yesterday’s two boat trips.

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Today is going to be a long day, so we grab a couple of pastries at Tulcea before continuing on our journey.

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Plăcintă cu brânză – sweet pastries filled with cheese. (2 lei is ca. 40p)

I giggle to myself when I see the name of the local petrol station. I Norwegian the word ‘rompetroll’ (directly translated ass-troll) means tadpoles; and in my mind’s eye I can just imagine pouring a bucket full of baby frogs into the fuel tank of the car. OK, OK, it’s childish, I know, but this really tickles me!

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We get the ferry back over the Danube to Galați, where we have to call in Vila Belvedere (where we stayed on the way down), as Andrei walked away with his room key in his pocket!

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Blue Acqua Restaurant, Galați

We stop for some lunch at this riverfront restaurant specialising in seafood.

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David chooses a mixed seafood skewer with sweet chilli sauce, which is really nice.

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As usual, I like to scour the menu for ‘new’ food – dishes or ingredients that I have never tried before, are local to the region, or just somewhat unusual. This Snail Skewer fits that bill perfectly. Quite tough and rather chewy, I am very pleased it comes with a spicy Hoi Sin Sauce. Not my best selection, but it is always worth a try!

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The road from Galați to the Moldavian border is mostly smooth, traffic free and winding its way through beautiful countryside. From time to time we see these portable beehives – transported and parked to follow the blossom.

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The outside temperature is 34 °C, but the A/C in the car is efficient. Having suffered really badly with my knee on the way down here, I park myself in the front seat today, something which proves to be an excellent move as have no pain in my knee even after several hours in the same position. Andrei tries to engage me in one of his in-depth and serious discussions this afternoon (this time about crime and the success - or not - of penal reform systems), but I am just too tired.

Andrei worries me when he asks: “Do I need a passport to enter Moldova?” “What? You don’t have a passport?” I demand incredulously. “No, it ran out a couple of years ago.” he answers nonchalantly. For a few seconds I have visions of being stuck for hours, or even overnight, at the border with a passport-less guide; until I remember that most European countries issue ID cards that are good for international travel within EU. As it turns out, we have no problems at the border and we are soon out of Romania, through the ubiquitous no-man’s-land and back in Moldova. We just have to purchase a vignette for road tax, and we are on our way to Chișinău again, just as the sun starts to set.

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Andrei pulls up outside the Codru Hotel at 19:40, and we are thankful that there is no queue for check-in tonight; as we are being picked up for dinner in 20 minutes. Back in the now very familiar Room 313, we have a quick shower and change; and make it to reception with plenty of time to spare before Leonid arrives promptly at 20:00.

Vatra Neamului Restaurant

We explain to the waiter – whose English is only marginally better than our Moldovian – that tonight’s meal is paid for by Amadeus Travel; and ask if there is a special menu, or maybe a set meal that we should be ordering from. He just passes us a normal menu, smiles and walks away. We are nor particularly hungry, and as we have a very early start tomorrow morning (04:30 pick-up from the hotel), we just order a simple dish with no starters, sides or desserts.

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Chicken with cheese sauce

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Pork with cheese and mushrooms

The restaurant is quaint, with antique furniture and several cosy alcoves. We appear to be the only people eating here tonight, although I think there might be a private party in a back room. Strange, considering it is Saturday night.

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Two pretty singers and a chap on a cobza (a kind of lute) entertain us – at least the words to the song are easy to remember should we wish to sing along.

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So, our travel adventure is over for this time. Moldova, Transdniestr and Romania have all been compelling destinations, and despite considerable shared history and culture, they are surprisingly dissimilar to each other in so many ways. Each has given us highlights and new experiences to remember for years to come.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for showing us these hidden places in a small world.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:37 Archived in Moldova Tagged danube adventure dinner snails romania border_crossing ferry delta immigration moldova danube_delta undiscovered_destinations galati traditional_dinner Comments (0)

Danube Delta

A day on the Delta

semi-overcast 31 °C
View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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After the wine and moonshine last night, we both slept well. A little too well I think, as David wakes up with a bad back this morning.

Breakfast consists of a typical continental selection, although I can’t say fish balls appeal this morning.

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Today we are fulfilling a long-time dream of mine; exploring the Danube Delta by small boat has been on my wish list for as long as I can remember.

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Although this is one of the most popular tourist areas in the Danube Delta, it never feels crowded. We do see other boats, of course, but for a lot of the time, it is just us and the awesome nature around us.

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The Danube Delta is not only the world’s largest wetlands; it is also a paradise for wildlife, with over 300 species of birds in its numerous lakes and marshes.

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Grey Heron

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Black Headed Gulls

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Hooded Crow

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Mallard

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Squacco Heron

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Whiskered tern

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Mute Swan Cygnets

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Herring Gull

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Common Tern

It is a struggle to get good pictures of the birds – as soon as we get anywhere near them; they fly off en masse. I am guessing the sound of the outboard engine is scaring them off.

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I try to capture the birds in flight, but my success rate is rather low.

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Pygmy Cormorant

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Marsh Harrier

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Mute Swans

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Hooded Crow

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Great Egret

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Purple Heron

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Great Cormorant

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Grey Heron

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Little Egret

The Danube Delta consists of an intricate network of waterways and lakes, and we transverse many of the tranquil canals this morning. Some are wider than a motorway, others so narrow that two boats cannot pass easily.

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Little Egret

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Floating hotel

The marshes are studded with glorious water lilies.

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After a while David’s back begins to really bother him on the bench-seat – which offers no back support – so he lies down across the boat instead. It’s a hard life here on the water.

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Our cheeky guide Andrei

Out on the lake, the sun glistens magically on the surface of the water.

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A great number of Egyptian White Pelicans arrive here every spring to raise their young, but are usually gone again by this time of year, so I am very excited to see a small flock of them flying in formation right above us.

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From time to time we stop for Pavet, our trusted captain, to remove reeds that have stuck in the propellers. The Delta has the largest reed beds in the world (625,000 acres), which provide ideal spawning and nesting grounds. The floating reed beds – known as plaur in Romanian - are a mixture of reeds, roots, soil, and grasses. Reed was intensively harvested, and large areas drained, during the Communist era; as the regime had plans to transform the Delta into a large agro-industrial zone. These days the reeds are slowly invading the water surface, extending the delta into the Black Sea at a rate of 24m a year!

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The tall reeds dwarf a Little Egret!

The Danube Delta is home to 60% of the world's population of Pygmy Cormorants.

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Squacco Heron

The serenity of these calm backwaters attracts fishermen, sightseers and people just wanting to get out into nature for a few hours.

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The floating hotels look rather cool, but are not as practical as they first appear – their size means they are unable to enter the smaller canals.

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Marsh Sandpiper

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Grey Heron and Great Egret

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Northern Lapwing

There is said to be a lot of wildlife – in addition to the birds – here at the Delta, but all we see this morning is a few horses and some cows.

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More waterlilies.

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Lunch

After a beautiful morning on the water, it is time to return to Crisan and our guest house for lunch.

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For lunch we have …. wait for it…. fish ball soup, followed by…. fish. This time Prussian carp (with the fetching name “crap” in Romanian), as well as the catfish we didn’t eat yesterday; served with the ever-present polenta.

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After a short walk to the local ‘supermarket’ to buy some wine for tonight, it is time for a siesta (and a cuddle with the resident cat) before this afternoon’s boat trip on the Danube Delta.

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This 5000 km² area of floating reed islands, forests, pastures and sand dunes is inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The still afternoon and lack of other boats on the smaller canals, makes for some gorgeous reflections.

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The Danube Delta is home to 70% of the world’s white pelican population.

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As well as other birds, of course

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Common Gull

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Squacco Heron

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Great Cormorant and Common Gull

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Coot

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Mallards

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Black Headed Gulls

The Danube River is the most international river in the world - its course runs through or alongside nine countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

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Unfortunately one of the fishing lines gets stuck in the propeller of the boat and we drag it along with us as we move on.

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Stormy clouds + low afternoon sun + glistening water = some awesome photo opportunities.

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The Danube Delta Reserve has the third largest biodiversity in the world, exceeded only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Galapagos Archipelago in Ecuador.

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Frogs on the lily leaves

As we make our way back towards Crișan, the low, pink sun shows some promise of a good sunset to come.

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Dinner

Concerned that as tourists we may not wish to eat fish for every single meal, our host serves us pork chops with rice and pickles for dinner today.

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We share the bottle of red wine we bought from the shop earlier, but David is the only one who enjoys it, so he finishes the bottle off.

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I stick to the double distilled plum moonshine. It goes well with the cake made from grapes grown in the guest-house garden.

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Yet another day – the last one in Romania – has come to an end. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for this totally fascinating private tour of Moldova, Transdniestr and Romania.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:37 Archived in Romania Tagged birds fish boat travel marshes destinations photography soup delta boat_trip bird_watching danube_delta undiscovered_destinations crisan fishball_soup Comments (0)

Port au Prince - Atlanta - London - Bristol

Homeward bound


View It's the Caribbean, but not as you know it - Haiti for Jacmel Carnival 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

05:00 is way too early for my liking, but I prefer to have plenty of time to get ready. Today is departure day and Geffrard is picking us up at 06:15. He is early and we make it to the airport in no time.

The whole airport experience is a bit of a palaver. Uncharacteristically, we allow a porter to take out bags from the car to check in, and tip him accordingly. He lingers, consistently demanding a “tip for my supervisor” Really?

Suspecting previous experience is to blame for the pre-check-in checks in the departure hall, we are not surprised when a Haitian couple are unable to produce a green card or visa for the US, pretending not to understand the questions posed to them and thus holding up the queue.

In the queue for security, I chat to the Canadian UN security worker in front of me, whose alcohol-breath poses a real fire risk. She gets stopped by the officials – I wonder why...

I am not sure whether it is the Haitian authorities or Delta Airlines whose paranoia leads to the sheer number of checks:

Pre-check in checks: US visa / ESTA / Green Card
Check in – tickets / pre-printed boarding cards / passport
Bag drop – boarding cards
Security – boarding cards, shoes off, x-ray
Immigration – passports, boarding cards
Another check – boarding cards scanned
Second security – boarding cards check, manual bag check, body pat down
Boarding gate – boarding cards and passports
On entering the plane – boarding cards

Finally we board our Atlanta bound plane, and find ourselves surrounded by a large group of Pennsylvania Dutch. Are they Amish? Mennonites? Quakers? I admit my ignorance at not knowing the difference. They are all in plain dress, with the women wearing mostly matching pale blue gingham-checked floor-length dresses, a white bonnet covering their hair and make-up less faces devoid of any smile or outward sign of joy. The men – mostly young lads – nearly all look alike which makes me think they are possibly brothers or even one large family. They speak some variation of German amongst themselves, and English to the crew. As the plane starts to taxi, the sound of two dozen passengers quietly singing hymns emits from all around us in the cabin. In all the 650 or so flights we have taken, this is a first!

Leaving Haiti we head due north, initially over the mountainous interior, then later we have great views of Turks and Caicos islands from the plane.

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After a beautiful start, we soon hit clouds and experience some pretty severe turbulence, eliciting loud gasps and even screams from the passengers.

Atlanta

More officialdom on our arrival in the US of A. The self serve immigration desks scan our passports and take our fingerprints, giving me a green light and the go-ahead to enter the country, but David gets a cross and a referral again. They obviously don't like his passport, as the same thing happened on the way out.

The guy in front of us at the queue for the manual immigration also has problems, and requires a Creole translator. We swap queues and are in luck: an immigration official with a sense of humour, joking that David Howard is a common name. "Less of the common please, I like to think it is popular" quips David.

In most other countries when you are in transit, you literally arrive in the departure hall and remain there until your flight is called and you go to the gate. Not so the US. The hand luggage goes through an X-ray while we have to remove our shoes and go through the complete body scanners, followed by a manual pat down.

We collect the luggage and exit through a security check where we hand in the print out from the self check-in in Port au Prince. The luggage then has to be re-checked-in at the desk. Fortunately there is no queue here, and the lady behind the counter takes a shine to my accent, making me repeat the short sentence “It is” again and again. OK......

One more check of the boarding card and passport, then through another body scanner, then we are back in the departure lounge. We check the information board for details of our next flight – I never get used to the unique way flights are displayed in the US – in alphabetical order rather than chronological like in the rest of the world.

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Ecco Restaurant
Having five hours to kill, we want to sit down for a proper meal, being served by a waiter (or waitress), rather than grab a quick bite to eat at a fast food place. The general manager shows us to our table, and starts chatting. Finding that we are on the same wavelength, we and up talking to him for half an hour or more, covering a number of subjects, including politics, travel, culture and languages.

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David is delighted to find they serve cider

The pizzas are very nice, but nothing exceptional and the wine is expensive even though we choose the second cheapest on the menu. . After a couple of desserts and two coffees each, we are totally shocked to find the bill comes to $160! That is by far the most expensive pizza I have ever had. I check and re-check the bill against the menu, but find it is correct, and leave the restaurant with a sour taste in my mouth (and it wasn't the wine).

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The setting sun is just above the horizon as we taxi out to the runway at Atlanta for our flight back to London Heathrow.

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The rest of the journey home is totally uneventful, and in the car on the way back from the airport in the UK, I reflect on airline security checks. On our journey from Haiti to the UK, my passport was checked nine times, boarding card eleven times. My hand luggage went through three x-rays and one manual check. I had two X-rays, two full body scans and two manual pat downs, as well as having to take my shoes off twice. It's good to know we are safe.

Welcome home.

Posted by Grete Howard 02:58 Archived in USA Tagged sunset travel flight usa security pizza expensive virgin airline passport atlanta luggage heathrow aiport delta immigration haiti rip_off ecco security_check ecco_restaurant Comments (1)

London - Atlanta - Port au Prince

Haiti?

semi-overcast 30 °C
View It's the Caribbean, but not as you know it - Haiti for Jacmel Carnival 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Ever since announcing our next holiday destination, I have been faced with questions such as “why?”, “where?”, “what's there?”... but mostly “is it safe?”. This, of course is nothing unusual for me; after all we have been to a fair few unconventional destinations over the years.

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The first time someone replied “I went there” I got really excited and started to quiz them about the country: the people, the customs, the sights... only to find they spent half a day on a private beach (in Cap Haitien) belonging to their cruise company. Sigh.

We did have a few safety concerns ourselves as a result of the elections which were due on the 17th January, then adjourned until the 24th and subsequently postponed indefinitely. As a result there have been a number of fierce and bloody demonstrations throughout the country, something we have been following quite closely through the media. The violence, however, is not directed at tourists, and with a guide and driver at our disposal, we should be able to avoid any volatile areas.

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My initial interest in Haiti as a travel destination was piqued back in the early 2000s after talking to a travel agent friend who'd been. We even got as far as arranging a tour of the country through the Bristol based tour operator he worked for at the time... and then political unrest hit the small Caribbean country (yet again) and the plans were shelved.

(And there's the answer for those of you who don't know where Haiti is, it is the western part of the Hispaniola island. The other – larger – part is much better known: Dominican Republic. People sometimes get Haiti confused with the South Pacific island of Tahiti, or they think it is in Africa.)

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So, fast forward 15 years or so, and we find ourselves yet again planning a trip to Haiti, this time courtesy of Undiscovered Destinations.

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Haiti is not exactly a popular tourist destination, something that is reflected in the lack of flights covering Port au Prince. I was hoping to fly via Miami and kill two birds with one stone by being able to catch up with our good friends Homer and Eddie, but after researching a LOT of options, it turned out that flying via Atlanta was way cheaper. Sorry guys.

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So... let's go!

The trip doesn't start well, with David realising that he's forgotten his wallet. By now we are half way to London, so he will just have to do without. (Thanks Lyn for rummaging through the clothes in his wardrobe to put his mind at ease that the wallet was in fact at home, not lost somewhere en route). So much for having a packing list, and double-, triple- and quadruple- checking it... I guess I will be paying for everything on this trip then.

We have booked the Extra Legroom seats for the long haul journey across the Atlantic, and it proves to be a wise move. Not only does it indeed offer lots of space, we are able to spread out and get a row to ourselves each!

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As usual, I am asleep on take-off and only wake up in time for the food – which incidentally is very good, especially the salted caramel ganache.

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The journey is mostly very pleasant, apart from the man whose breath is so bad I am convinced someone has farted; the chap who plays games on his mobile phone with the sound on, and the ***** on-flight games: who, in their wisdom, decided that touch screens on aircraft seat backs were a good idea?

Transit through Atlanta turns out to be a surprisingly smooth operation, with its self service immigration, friendly staff and total lack of queues. The luggage is just arriving as we get to the conveyor belt, but in our excitement we pick up someone else's bag. Fortunately David discovers it before leaving the hall – otherwise it could have been a nasty surprise, for us and them!

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Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport may be a mouthful to say, but it's not a bad place to spend a couple of hours. The airport itself is about as huge as its name and is the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic, with some 260,000 passengers daily through 207 departure gates! In 2011 Atlanta was named the world's most efficient airport - I can see why.

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While taking a few photos around the concourse, a charming young female staff member approaches us with the suggestion of including both of us in the picture. Although a pretty crap photographer, she is delightful, and we chat for a while, before going our separate ways.

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She may not be a good picture-taker, but we do forgive her, as she turns out to be working on the gate of our flight (which is as much of a surprise to her as it is to us). When she sees us, she grabs our boarding cards, heads over to her computer, and returns with new cards - upgraded boarding cards. What a darling! That more than makes up for an out-of-focus picture!

With not only better seats, but a whole row each (again), the flight from Atlanta to Port au Prince is a pleasure. More so when we get free cocktails - as described by the air stewardess, the Blue Chair Bay Island Punch (coconut rum, orange juice and cranberry) tastes like "vacation in a glass!"

The holiday has started!

On arrival at Port au Prince, we are met by Geffrard, our designated driver here in Haiti, who whisks us past the hustling porters, through the dump that is Port au Prince by night (insisting that we lock all the doors and wind the windows up) to Le Plaza Hotel.

And what an oasis it is, with leafy grounds surrounding a swimming pool, an open air restaurant, plenty of trees, and nicely air conditioned rooms. Too tired to eat dinner, we have a quick drink and retire to bed.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:43 Archived in Haiti Tagged flight holiday virgin atlanta heathrow delta haiti hartsfield–jackson_atlanta-inte virgin-airlines trans-atlantic-flight undiscovered-destinations voyages-lumiere port-au-prince Comments (1)

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