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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)

Chișinău - Bendery - Tiraspol

♫♪♫ Back in the USSR ♫♪♫

sunny 38 °C
View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

That pesky lift this morning! Complete with our luggage, ready to check out, we press the call button. We can see the lift come up from the ground floor, then go straight past us to the top floor. It's the same on its way back down – it does not stop on the third floor for us. Five lifts whizz past on their journey either up or down, as our frustration grows. When one eventually stops, it is full. The same happens with the next two. This is getting beyond a joke; walking down the stairs is not an option with all our luggage. Finally an empty lift arrives and we manage to get in. Just. We feel like sardines pressed up against the mirrored walls of the miniscule lift.

Today we have a new driver, Ivan, to take us across the border from Moldova into Transdniestr. Valeriu pulls us aside before we get to the car and with a hint of drama requests that as Ivan hails from Transdniestr, we do not mention anything about the relations between the two countries or the political situation while in the car with Ivan.

Border Controls

The Moldavian side of immigration goes without a hitch and we don’t even have to leave the car. After travelling through a substantial stretch of no-mans-land, we arrive at the Transdniestr border, where we enter a small wooden hut on foot. Having heard stories about how previous travellers have had to bribe officials and even having their camera equipment confiscated at the border, I leave everything back in the car. Through the small window used by the immigration official, I spot a wall full of a ‘rogue’s gallery’ featuring artist impressions of ‘wanted’ travellers. We hand over our passports. Valeriu is travelling on an ID card, whereas Ivan has what looks like an old USSR passport, but is in fact issued by the government of Transdniestr. As Transdniestr is not recognised as a nation by most countries in the world, this passport is about as useful as a chocolate teapot: it cannot be used for overseas travel!

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The atmosphere in the hut is tense; with people shuffling about uncomfortably and speaking in hushed voices. Finally we receive our approval to enter the country. The border officials do not stamp passports; instead a loose-leaf permit is issued which we need to hand in when leaving the country. “Do not lose it!” Valeriu implores, and I guard this piece of paper with my life, fearing the consequences!

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We have permission to enter the country for 24 hours only, with the permit dated and timed TO THE SECOND!

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We’re in!

Transdniestr

So what’s the big deal with the border crossing between these two countries?

Transdniestr is a breakaway republic nestled between Moldova and Ukraine. Following the break-up of the USSR, conflict between Moldova and the Transdniestr republic escalated to some serious and bloody military clashes, which ended in an uneasy ceasefire. The territory of Transdniestr broke away from Moldova, who granted it the status of ‘Transnistria autonomous territorial unit with special legal status’. Although the ceasefire has mostly held, the territory's political status remains unresolved: Transdniestr is an unrecognised but de facto independent state with its own parliament, currency, flag, anthem and border controls. And passports.

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So why did they not want to be part of Moldova?

Unlike the majority of Moldavians who are of Romanian descent and speak a form of Romanian, the people who live in this small, self-declared republic are mainly ethnic Russians and speak Russian.

This is how the BBC describes Transdniestr:

”…one of the post-Soviet space's ‘frozen conflicts’. The international community does not recognise its self-declared statehood, and the territory, which remains in a tense standoff with Moldova, is often portrayed as a hotbed of crime. It has a reputation for corruption, organised crime and smuggling, and has denied accusations of illegal arms sales and of money laundering.”

That’s OK then.

Wikivoyage also warns tourists that:

”Visitors should note that they are highly likely to face demands for substantial bribes from the border guards either on entry or exit from Transnistria (or both). Despite official orders from the previous President Smirnov to act professionally and to decline such payments, bribery is rife and your passport may be destroyed if you do not pay. Indeed, you may be turned away from the border on the Moldovan or Ukrainian side if you are unwilling or unable to pay the border guards a bribe.”

Which is the reason we approached the border controls with some trepidation and distrust, and why I am terrified of losing my slip of paper.

Bendery Fortress

The fortress, also known as Tighina, dates from 1538 when it was built to protect what was then one of the most powerful cities in Moldova.

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The Military Historical Memorial is the cemetery where soldiers who died in the two world wars are buried, as well as those who lost their lives during the storming of the fortress by Ottomans, Ukrainian Cossack soldiers of Mazepa, and Swedish soldiers under the rule of Charles XII (who took refuge here), mostly from the 18th century.

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In 1710, Pylyp Orlik (a Cossack Hetman in exile) wrote one of the first state constitutions in Europe here at Bendery, and was named as the ‘Protector of Ukraine’ as a result. This open book celebrates the occasion.

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Busts of various Russian generals who liberated the fortress from the Ottomans in the 18th century.

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It looks like the Ottomans have returned.

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The fortress is pretty unusual in that each of the eleven towers has a different shape.

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In the small museum hangs a portrait of Carl XII of Sweden, who fled south after the Swedish assault in the Great Northern War in the 18th century ended in disaster and saw him badly injured. He and around 1000 of his men took refuge in Bendery Fortress where he was initially welcomed with open arms by the Ottomans.

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Also in the museum are relics from an ancient Greek settlement found here, old currency, and a cool model of the fort showing how it would have looked in its heyday.

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Outside in the courtyard we find a trebuchet and some stocks.

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We move slowly back to the car as the temperatures are already in the high 30s. It’s going to be a hot one today!

Tiraspol

Internationally this city is recognised as the second largest city in Moldova, but Tiraspol is in fact the capital of the breakaway republic of Transdniestr, and celebrates its Russian connections with a fairly modern statue of Lenin in front of its Parliament.

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Glory Monument

Monument Plaza features commemorations to those who died defending Transdniestr during both world wars, the Afghan War, and the Great Patriotic War (the breaking up of USSR and ‘independence’ from Moldova 1990-1992).

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The T34 Tank was brought from Hungary in 1945. Underneath it is a capsule with soil from Volgograd (site of the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942).

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Statue of the Sorrowful Mother

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Eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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A newish chapel

Dniester River

The river is used for a variety of leisure activities, such as boating, fishing, sunbathing, or swimming.

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Central Square

Here we find a statue to Alexander Suvorov, a national hero and city founder who liberated Bendery Fortress back in 1770.

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What I didn’t expect to see, however, is a group of Hari Krishna singers here!

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Independence Day celebrations

Two days ago – on September the 2nd – Transdniestr celebrated its Independence Day, and everywhere we go in Tiraspol, we see posters and decorations, including these banners in the colour of the Transdniestr flag.

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A statue to Catherine the Great, the Russian leader under whom Suvorov fought when he founded Tiraspol.

In-Line Skating

I am really impressed to see this guy, who must be well into his 70s, keep up with the youngsters in the skate park! Respect!

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City Hall

We stop to admire the City Hall and later Valeriu asks if we would like to taste some Cognac. We are both feeling the heat today, and I have an upset tummy, so we kindly decline.

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Kvmahëk Restaurant

Instead we continue to lunch, at a Ukrainian restaurant well known for its excellent food.

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When we arrive, we are presented with vodka shots accompanied by some amuse bouche.

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This will be 'kill or cure' for my upset tummy, for sure.

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I'll go with the 'cure.

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We start with the ubiquitous soup of course, this time traditional borscht – beetroot soup with smetana (soured cream).

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The restaurant specialises in varenyky – traditional Ukrainian pierogi - and we have a selection, filled with cheese, potato, and even cherries.

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Hotel Russia

After the late lunch, Ivan drops us off at Hotel Russia; he then has to drive Valeriu back to Chișinău for another tour this evening! Talk about being in demand!

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The hotel is very new and modern, with a retro style throughout.

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The A/C is very welcome and we take a long nap, followed by a refreshing shower and feel very much better afterwards – almost human again.

I start to snigger as I read the description of the hotel services, detailing how they offer “speed dating” in the bar. It certainly sounds like a euphemism to me, and I become even more convinced when I read about their “private room where you can relax in utmost privacy or conduct confidential business negotiations” I feel sure that there is more to this place than just a hotel.

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Dinner and ‘entertainment’

It is still very warm out when we go down for dinner, but thankfully there is a shady courtyard where we can eat.

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It seems they are expecting us, and a very pretty waitress brings us some water and later a salad, explaining that the ‘meat will be around 20 minutes’. Or at least I think that is what she is trying to tell us.

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Initially we are the only two people in the restaurant, but there seems to be a private party or something going on next door, and we watch guests arrive. One by one, or sometimes in pairs, the most stunningly beautiful girls arrive, wearing precipitously high heels, skirts so short that if they even slightly bent over I could see their breakfast, or dresses so tight they would have needed a shoe horn to get into them – usually with splits reaching for the armpits. When I say that these girls are glamorous, I mean it to the point that they would not look out of place on a red carpet in Hollywood. These are amongst the most beautiful and elegant girls I have ever seen!

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Watching the comings and goings. No pun intended.

The girls are truly conversation-stoppers. Or rather starters – we do wonder with so many flashy and seductive girls (and mostly scruffy corpulent men) if this is anything to do with the “speed dating” and “private room” we read about earlier…?

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David is bemused but enjoying the view.

They all disappear behind a wall at the end of the terrace, to what I presume is a private party, but being the nosy sort, I go to have a peek. The setting is equally sophisticated, with colourful drapes and a multicoloured fountain.

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Having taken what I had hoped was a surreptitious photo of the girl in the gold dress; the chap in the background comes up and starts to talk to me in Russian. Although I can’t understand what he is saying, I feel quite uncomfortable about his demeanour, so I shrug my shoulders, smile sweetly and hurry back to where David is sitting.

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Our main course soon arrives, a very tasty beef stew with potato wedges.

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The dining area is more like a café or bistro, and the first two courses were fairly plain and ordinary; the dessert is therefore all the more of a surprise when it arrives! It is almost as glamorous and dazzling as the girls!

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Not wishing to gatecrash the party next door, nor wanting to change money into Transdnistrian Roubles just so that we can have a drink in the bar; we retire to the room fairly early.

I’ve been asleep for a couple of hours when a sudden noise wakes me up. I hear the clippety-clopp of high heels on the hard floor of the corridor, then the slamming of a door. I look at my watch – it is 02:30. More clippety-clopp and door slamming follows, accompanied by giggling and laughter. It seems a number of guests are returning to their rooms a little worse for wear.

I have almost managed to drift back off to sleep by ignoring the noise from the corridor, when I hear shouting. Loud shouting. First a male voice, and then a female. A very loud door-slam follows, with the noise seemingly emanating from the next room. More shouting. They are obviously having a major ‘domestic’ dispute. At around 04:15 there appears to be a ceasefire, and I am just returning to a slumber when they start off again. At one stage the fight gets pretty intense, it sounds like things are being thrown around, and I am very much expecting to hear the sound of broken glass followed by sirens. Thankfully that does not happen.

At 05:15 the argument reaches a crescendo: the female screams what I can only assume are Russian profanities, slams the door and leaves him, running down the corridor with more clippety-clopps. It doesn't sound like he follows her.

Was this another "speed date" gone wrong, or did the "confidential negotiations" break down? Either way, I am extremely grateful for silence at last. and I collapse into a deep sleep.

And so endeth another 'interesting' day in Moldova / Transdniestr with Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:13 Archived in Moldova Tagged lenin fountain memorial museum party border_crossing fortress passport chisinau immigration moldova bender transnistria hookers hotel_russia tiraspol transdniester transniestra hotel_codru codru bendery tighina bendery_fortress tighina_fortress berder_fortress carl_xii glory_memorial 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)

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