This August tastes like October (and pumpkin soup)

In one of my old posts I called autumn my favourite season, and October my favourite autumn month. But I don’t recall asking for August to become October, and this August has been very much October-like in my corner of Europe. I’m sure this has its bright sides somewhere, but they are damned hard to see behind the clouds. One slightly less dark side I could find is that pumpkin soup goes really well with this weather.

Red kuri squash (image by Schwäbin http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Schw%C3%A4bin)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Red kuri squash pumpkin (this variety you can eat with skin and all)
  • 2 small potatoes (or sweet potatoes if you want everything orange)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp vegetable bouillon

Cut the pumpkin in half and spoon out the seeds. Make sure you take all of them out, because I’ve missed a couple of seeds once and had to spit them out piece by piece afterwards (there’s a blender involved later in the recipe). Chop the onion and the carrots and fry them in some oil in a large soup pan. Chop the pumpkin and add it to the pan. Pour 1 litre of boiling water (or more, at least enough to cover the vegetables). Add the skinned and cubed potatoes, the vegetable bouillon and the thyme. Cook until the pumpkin in soft. Add the orange juice and using a hand blender, mix the soup into a smooth mass. Be very careful here – the soup has a very high heat content and flying drops can be dangerous (my wife still has marks on her arm from a soup accident years ago). If you want to make the soup look fancy, decorate the bowls with a spoon of crème fraîche or yoghurt, and a parsley leaf.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Go easy on the potatoes, otherwise you’ll end up eating very orange potato puree, like I did the last time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Recipes

So how much does it REALLY cost to travel around the world?

Planning a big trip? Probably you’ve noticed that there’s A LOT of planning to do. Choosing your destinations, scheduling the travel time table, getting vaccinations, buying some gear, saving money for travel… Wait, how much money do you actually need?

When me and my significant other were planning our 10-months trip around the world, that was one of the big unknowns – how much are we going to spend? The ultimate answer depends, as you may guess, on your travel style, the activities you undertake and – not to forget – your destinations. Because, and it will probably not be a shock to you, while some countries are cheap, others are expensive.

Singapore can be a budget destination, too ;-)

Singapore can be a budget destination, too ;-)

Being a total nerd and a statistics geek, I’ve meticulously kept a note of our spending. It wasn’t too difficult in this day and age – all I had to do was use the bank card to draw cash everywhere we went. Back home I could look up the numbers by logging in to my bank account and now I can report them here. Beware that these are just a rough reference and I can not be held accountable for any budget mishaps you may have using my notes as a guideline.

Rather than specifying the costs per country, I’ve split it into regions – this way the duration of travel per destination (region) is longer and more statistically valid, and rounded the numbers. All the numbers are for a couple travelling together – which means that if you’re on your own you may end up spending more or less, depending on whether you will pay for a separate room (which we did) or find the cheapest bunk bed (which we didn’t). The numbers include all the visa costs, internal and connecting flights, food, lodging, transport, and everything else you may think of. All the costs are given in Euro’s and although we’ve travelled some 5 years ago the numbers are probably largely valid as inflation was mild in these years due to the financial crisis.

  1. Pre-travel
    Costs – 9000 Euro
    Including Round The World tickets (about three-quarters of the sum) gear, vaccinations, insurance etc.
  2. Europe and the Middle East
    Countries – England, Ukraine, Israel, Jordan
    Duration – 3 weeks
    Costs – 60 Euro per day
    Notes – staying with family in Israel saves quite a bit
  3. Indian subcontinent
    Countries – India and Nepal
    Duration – 3 months
    Costs – 60 Euro per day
    Notes – some splashing in Nepal on an upbeat lodge in Chitwan and gift shopping in Kathmandu. Also includes more than 300 Euro in visa costs, and a flight from Kathmandu to Delhi to avoid a couple of days of bus/train travel.
  4. South-East Asia
    Countries – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore
    Duration – 3 months
    Costs – 70 Euro per day
    Notes – includes two weeks of non-stop diving on Kho Phi Phi and flights from Hanoi to Luang Prabang and from Phuket to Singapore.
  5. Oceania
    Countries – New Zealand, French Polynesia, Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
    Duration – 3 months
    Costs – 90 Euro per day
    Notes – includes two months of car rental in New Zeland and three weeks on a remote atoll spending nothing (although the flight there cost 600 Euro).
  6. Peru (only stop in South America)
    Duration –  2 weeks
    Costs – 120 Euro per day
    Notes – includes a flight from Santiago to Lima, a lot of expensive activities like a flight over the Nazca Lines, and a lot of shopping for gifts and souvenirs as this was our final destination.
  7. Total budget
    Duration – 10 months
    Costs – 100 Euro per day
    Notes – includes EVERYTHING

As I reviewed the numbers I was quite surprised. How did we end up spending more per day in SE Asia than we’ve spent in Europe? And Peru was supposed to be a cheap country, wasn’t it? But there is a simple explanation – always look at the big picture. For example, India has cost us only about 30 Euro per day to stay in. But the visas were a 100 Euro per person, adding about 20% to the overall price tag of a month in India. Couchsurfing in Singapore made it one of the cheapest countries to stay in. We’ve had 3-course meals in Peru for 1 Euro, but bagging several (pricey) top attractions in a couple of weeks eats a big chunk of your budget, and we were quite travel-weary so weren’t minding spending a few extra coins to support the local economy by staying in better lodgings and buying an alpaca skin rug. All in all we’ve had a smashing 10 months trip for just 100 Euro per day for the two of us.

Can you do it cheaper? Sure! Buy a less extensive RTW ticket, for starters. Ours included some weird detours and a lot of stops, so we had a lot of mileage and airport taxes to pay. The cheapest round-the-world tickets cost only 1500 Euro! If you do buy an RTW ticket, don’t plan any land segments. We initially intended to travel from Thailand to Singapore and from Santiago to Lima over land and ended up buying plane tickets because we’ve seen enough dusty roads. Staying longer in a country (or even a region) helps bring down the costs, as the visa fees and cross-border travel costs are already included. But most importantly – think Zen! Its not the destination that matters, its what you will do there that will make the difference.

4 Comments

Filed under Europe, Round-the-world trip

Being an idiot in Denmark (which, after all, is just another small European country to be an idiot in)

Cycling around few more blocks on the Aarhus free city bike. Having another go at the buffet in the Vietnamese restaurant. Coming back to pick up the bag I forgot at the said restaurant. Deciding at the last minute to buy a newspaper for the road. Trying to pay for the newspaper while in line behind a very drunk Danish lady who had no clue what she was doing in the store anyway. There were many factors that contributed to me missing the train to Kolding, where I was supposed to board my CityNightLine back to Holland. But they all boiled down to one simple fact – I was an idiot. I had some 5 hours in which I could have taken 5 trains to Kolding to kill some time there before nicely and easily boarding the night train home. There I was – staring at the back lights of the last of these trains as it left the Aarhus central station.

The view from my hotel window in Aarhus - through the window I could climb to the roof, if I wanted to!

The view from my hotel window in Aarhus – through the window I could climb to the roof, if I wanted to!

 

This was not the first time I was an idiot, nor was Denmark the first small European country I was being an idiot in (my followers might recall the story about the wrong airport in Belgium). However familiar the situation felt, I still had to try and resolve it. I bravely boarded the first train in the general direction of Kolding. The poor conductor and his poor English buckled and grumbled under the barrage of my questions. His general attitude was, and I can’t blame him for it, “you’re the idiot – you work it out”. I, however was relentless. The guy was my only lifeline and I wasn’t about to let go.

Danish rail – this is what I was up against

The train I was in was heading to Kopenhagen, not even passing Kolding. I could catch a connecting train, which would bring me there exactly 5 minutes after the CNL would leave, which was quite useless. Sure, even if I’d miss the train I would get home eventually, but it would cost me both time and money and I’d be damned if I wouldn’t try my best to salvage what’s left. Just as I was about to grow desperate I spotted an opportunity – I could try and catch the CNL by taking a taxi from Fredericia. Finally, I had hope. The Danish conductor was not that encouraging. With infinite easy and brevity, he smashed my joy upon the discovery of this opportunity by a dry “too far”. He was a man of few words, but the ones he used made direct hits. His colleague, apparently more sympathetic to my despair, suggested I could try from Vejle – it was closer and I’d have a better chance. However slim, the odds were better than zero.

As the train pulled into Vejle, I jumped off and hit the ground running. “To Kolding!” I called, plunging into the waiting taxi. A slight Sherlock Holmes-ish feeling got hold of me. I felt as if I was pursuing Professor Moriarty making his escape to France, chasing him to the ferry in Dover. The taxi driver was absolutely not playing the role of Dr. Watson though. Contradictory to the hell-raising Belgian from that other time I was an idiot, this one seemed to be giving a driving lesson. He followed all the signs and drove at the EXACT speed limit. It would be a close call – we had 20 minutes to cover the 25 kilometres, mostly through towns and villages.

Fortunately, I had a back-up plan – if I’d miss the CNL in Kolding, we would drive on to Padborg, where I’d surely catch up with it. Unfortunately, I was scared to even think how much that taxi ride would cost. As I shared my plan with the driver, I suddenly thought that perhaps it wasn’t such a great idea – what if he’d let his foot off the gas just that little bit so that I’d miss the CNL in Kolding and he will get a big ride to Padborg? But he just kept driving, sticking to the cursed speed limit, not making any cunning plans but just transferring me from A to B.

As we drove up to Kolding train station, I swiped the card in the pay machine in the taxi, swiped it again, cursed, swiped it in the right direction, frantically punched in the pin-code, rushed out of the taxi, hit the ground running again, ran into the station, onto the platform and jumped into the train barely seconds before the doors slammed shut behind me. The whole ordeal cost me 70 Euro and a nerve-wrecking hour. Denmark turned out a cheap country to be an idiot in.

Blessed be the night train - if you can catch it, that is

Blessed be the night train – if you can catch it, that is

7 Comments

Filed under Europe, Just another small European country