Archive for June, 2013


TRAVEL SOLO AS A WOMAN

Second instalment to my first blog on WOMEN TRAVELLING SOLO. https://renataveritashistory.com/2013/03/04/female-solo-travel/

Food for Thought: In the 19th and into the 20th century, a woman traveling alone would be considered having questionable morals. Today – the opposite, a single woman traveling with men may be looked upon as having questionable morals, unless they are family or friends.

I STRONGLY BELIEVE IN TRAVEL & LEARN.

Tips on how to handle situations in which country, and which countries are safe, which ones to be more careful in:

Central Europe – no problem, all Western continental countries including the U.K. pretty safe. Always useful to speak several languages, to get services at more decent prices. Taxis maybe a different thing. Since I mostly use the train to get me through most countries comfortably, there is no need to worry about being ripped off. Often, the big national train services have temporary specials on to buy low-price tickets. Most trains in most of those countries are also fitted now to handle physically handicapped persons. Overnight trains – traveling alone – I would be more careful.

Once you leave the main European continent, to travel to Africa, North Africa, just be more alert. The Maghreb countries – I did not find difficult at all. Taxi drivers tend to want to drive you around, even if you specify a fixed location. If you speak French (or Arabic) tell them you are already a guest in their country for weeks, no need to see this and that, “just get me to my destination”. Often cab fares are negotiable, as well.

My life was at stake only couple of times, when I was young, hitch hiking – even in my own country then.

In all those many years living, working and travelling in all sorts of countries, I only really were attacked once physically – in Rotterdam NL. But that was late in the evening. My own fault. [NOTE. I can only comment here on North America, Central America, Europe, Eastern (Soviet) Block countries (then), St. Petersbourg (recently), Scandinavia.] All went well.

In general I must say, that I am safer now when traveling alone, compared to when I was young.

HAPPY TRAVELING !  [post created with Firefox v.19]

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Innocent bystanders swallowing poisonous smoke from smokers. Basically, I don’t care if anybody smokes or how much they smoke, the more the better.What I as non-smoker care about is, though, to be forced to inhale that poison that others blow out. In other words: Swallow it. So, that I can continue to live.

A horror story follows: While working in Alberta’s oil industry from 1977 until the beginning of the 1990s, I was exposed in the workplace, in the offices, to second hand smoke. Myself I do not smoke, but many employees – particularly in the computer systems departments – did. This kind of (socially irresponsible) behavior lacking any controls or policies for protecting their employees resulted during those years in sickness, diseases of the lung and respiratory diseases. This to employees who were innocent bystanders, so to speak. Not only did our clothing get burned by employees walking around the workplace, burning cigarette in hand, but also during the last few years in the beginning of the 1980s while employed with TCPL Resources [ http://www.transcanada.com/splash/ ] this situation defied all descriptions. Arriving before 8 am for work, by 12 noon the air in the offices and corridors could be cut with a knife. Worse, because we in the computer department were sharing the air freely while working in open cubicles.

TCPL Resources took over our company Maligne Resources (a division of Dow Chemical) in 1983 . By fall I needed my first sinus surgery. Since the atmosphere inside TCPL Resources was such that we were not allowed to take out extended sick leave, I needed to go back to work soon after the surgery. My days were horror! My bleeding throat was almost choking me, while at the same time choking on others’ cigarette smoke. Of course, I commented on this situation, especially since already in all elevators in those Calgary, Alberta, high rise offices were notices posted on NO SMOKING. Result: By 1986, the new management (sent down from Toronto) started laying employees off in droves. First to go were those (complaining about the smoking) and single mothers – like myself. The heavy smokers were kept.

1986 was a bad year for finding any employment as a female systems professional (single mother with child). Those bastards ! Not only did I loose my (almost vested) company pension benefits, but had to leave behind my home in Alberta and my son go East (Ontario) and finally launch a job as a Systems (self-employed) contractor.

Years later, I found listed among others in relevant sources on companies and their social responsibility status, TCPL Resources (this arm may not exist anymore). Makes me really sick, when companies deliberately ‘kill’ their employees, than apply dirty business practices for layoff, then appear – newly born and re-invented – as socially responsible!

SMOKING CAN KILL – the Lung Association British Columbia : [ http://www.bc.lung.ca/ ] [ http://www.ilo.org/safework_bookshelf/english?content&nd=857170157

This time, 2010, got myself an extension (above the 90 allowed days’ stay). From the Auslandsamt/Authority for foreigners. They had a good big stare: what on earth does a German lady need an extension of stay in Germany for ? Good question [lost my citizenship when taking on the Canadian – tough luck !] Got an extension for several months. Rented a vacation apartment in Kreuzberg, aka. ‘Little Istanbul’ because of the many Turks living here. A huge “Wohnblock” three houses attached, high up. Sound carries tremendously, especially when some drunk across the building from where I rented decided to go nuts. I am so not used to this anymore, having now lived in North America for almost 40 years (all quiet here). Lots of graffity adorning sidewalks and buildings. Biggest challenge was obtaining a Russian Visa for my 8-day voyage to Sankt Petersburg, Russia. Flights to Russia take off from Flughafen Schönefeld with Rossyia Airlines. Bought the voyage in the Russia House [ http://www.russisches-haus.de/index.php?lang=ru ] , a citizen’s friendship House, there’s among others a Russian travel agency, who also arrange the invitation with a hotel in St. Petersburg. Bought the trip including the invitation. Then needed the visa. How on earth can I get a visa for Russia NOT being in my country ? Good question, again. Went to the Russian Consulate, standing in line (in the street, no one allowed anywhere inside), long line ups. [http://www.russische-botschaft.de/ ] Luckily, Russians are a friendly and helpful lot. And of course, they speak German, they live there. Someone in the lineup collects all passports of a larger group (mine the only Canadian), goes forward and gives the Russian security guy at the front door the passports. Then waiting again. Then The security calls in a group of people. You go through security check, upstairs, then check again, get a number, then sit down and wait again. Your number is called, you talk to the Russian Consulate official (German or Russian), present your travel papers with the invitation. He did not like it. Told me, “you need a residency permit to get a visa”. As a tourist how to get a ‘Residence Permit’ ? I went to the nearest Municipal Office, talked to a lady, told her where I rented. She said: NO. This is a vacation apartment, not a real rental location, suitable for residency. So, I pleaded. Took me a while, finally got my paper. Went back to the Russian Consulate, same wait forever, presented the residency paper in the morning. By 12 noon I had a Russian Visa – for one entire month (only needed 8 days). That’s how it goes! What helps a lot is, to speak the language.

I made many excursions to nice old areas surrounding Berlin center and middle, such as Park Grunewald, old Köpenick, old Spandau, Potsdam, Park Sanssouci with the castle, the Botanical Gardens, die Zitadelle and more. Interesting in Potsdam is also the Dutch Viertel/quarter with the authentic red brick Dutch-style houses and courtyards (little Cafe’s). I also watched each game during 2010 FIFA World Cup.

{Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin.} You know that one ? {Berlin ist eine Reise wert.} I left my suitcase in Berlin. Berlin is worth a voyage. 

I was several times in Berlin, even when it was still divided up into four Sectors. Long ago. That had been 1961. When my good friend and I traveled from my hometown Braunschweig, NW Germany, to visit her family in Berlin. Train travel is only one hour and a half, thereabouts. No stops, because of the VoPo’s, the notorious police squads responsible for security in the Communist Sector. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkspolizei ], the DDR – Deutsche Demokratische Republik. Stop at the border check (between the West and the East). At that time I was employed as IT specialist by the European Space Technology Centre, Netherlands. I had left all my ID’s pertaining to my work at home. I traveled as a simple office assistant. Main thing then was, not to make eye contact. That was serious scary stuff. Special trains also, which had grates underneath each wagon to prevent East Germans to flee the DDR.

Back in Berlin much later, the year 2005 and then 2007. All had changed. Still the atmosphere lingers. Friedrich Strasse goes through the West and former East Sector, you can feel the difference as soon as you walk along that Street. Our time again traveling back 2007 and spending days with my son (from Holland). We stayed in one Hotel near the old Anhalter Bahnhof (now a ruin). Near the Center and Brandenburger Gate. So interesting.   With Europe, the unbelievable thing always is: the moment I am back (and it took me 31 years) it feels like I never left. Language ? I can speak “berlinisch”, can fit in, nobody knows I come from (the moon ?). But crossing borders is different. I lost my citizenship and over there are now a foreigner. To be in Berlin itself is always a good thing, because that is where the main government is. You can get a lot more done here. Huge city – made many trips to outlying areas, parks, lakes, Potsdam – DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). Potsdam famous for its history prior to the big wars and during and 1945. [ http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potsdamer_Konferenz ] Potsdam is pretty. Nice old streets, the castle. There is still some stores selling special DDR paraphernalia. Berlin in summer turns into a hotspot of actions bringing in large numbers of Roma/Romani, which hang out around the Alex (Alexanderplatz). Accosting tourists. They usually carry slips of paper (in english) asking for money or other. Following tourists into stores. Ignore them! I love the Ku-Damm – Kurfürstendamm, where we always stop at Cafe Kranzler. [ http://www.cafekranzler.de/ ] Top floor restaurant. Do not miss! Unter den Linden – I love it. Promenading, a large boulevard in mid-Berlin. And of course Humboldt University (founded 1810) with its many little sidewalk book sellers, always bought myself (or re-sold) some books. Also found many little (cellar) used book stores even in Kreuzberg. Best of all I like the old quarter – the Nikolai Viertel. I could live there, but is now all tourists and seems to be getting smaller and smaller in size. More images of Berlin.