Posts Tagged ‘travel’

the frankenpassport

26 August 2006

August 26, 1996 – August 26, 2006


  • Basic pre-bar code US passport with the usual eight pages of travel instructions in front including reminders not to go to Cuba, Libya or North Korea, and to phone home regularly. Being American means always having something to read in those long security lines.
  • Three signatures of extra pages, bound in by an embassy employee who couldn’t tape straight.
  • Approximately 150 stamps, mainly Finland, US, UK, Estonia, and transit airports like Keflavik, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle; but also ten other eastern European countries, Canada and Australia.
  • 1 visa from embassy (Romania, expensive and unnecessary).
  • 10 Finnish residence permits.
  • Replaced by a passport that is actually thin enough to be carried in one of those safety pockets (shout out to Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough).



14 August 2000

Back home. Cannot believe that I spent yesterday in Bucharest, in fact mostly enjoyed it once I got outside the train station. Bucharest actually has a large number of beautiful buildings, not all of which could have belonged to the Ceausescus.

The villas along Embassy Row on Blvd Dacia are especially lovely, although there is one scary corner containing the Sudanese Embassy, the Egyptian Embassy, and the Iraqi Embassy. The Egyptians and the Iraqis have armed soldiers outside, and the Iraqis have a display case with faded pictures of Saddam, and another with pictures of deformed babies under the heading “Effects of Chemical Warfare.” Bucharest seems to have a wider range of architecture, facilities, cultural events, and shopping than smaller cities do, making it a real capital. Sofia is not a real capital, just a big town, and I skipped it this time. (Proof that it is not a real capital: no in your pocket guide. Not that Helsinki has one either.)

Bucharest also had water. For the second week in Blago, water pressure was very low and we had a “regime” whereby each half of the city could get water at an acceptable pressure for 12 hours a day, and no water at all for the other 12 hours. I was told that this was a fairly soft regime; sometimes each neighborhood has water for only 4 hours a day. The public squares of Blago are built around fountains, which naturally, were all dry, giving the town a desert-like feel. But in Bucharest, the fountains on Ceausescu’s grand boulevard were gushing rainbows of water, and children were swimming in them.

7 August 2000

I’m in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria at the Egg School, aka syntax camp. The school is being held at American University of Bulgaria, formerly the local communist party headquarters, now a fully functioning campus with a baseball team, gay and lesbian task force meetings, and productions of Our Town.  It’s, like, 100 degrees here. The showers in our hostel don’t work.  I’m facing a 12-hour train ride back to Romania on Saturday.  Other than that, everything’s fine and now I am going to go have a nutritious dinner of goat cheese and Pepsi-Cola.

PS 2015: The American University of Bulgaria appears to be thriving at “providing first-rate American education in the heart of new Europe.” It has expanded beyond the CP headquarters to a purpose-built campus. Egg School still exists too, same folks, held most recently in Debrecen.

18 July 2000

In 1995, I wrote in my journal, “Budapesters love dogs. They don’t pick up after them.” This has not changed. In other respects, though, Budapest has been tarted up beyond recognition. And without becoming a tourist theme park like Prague. It’s beautiful, walkable, full of little surprises.

This week’s holiday is Bastille Day, which was apparently celebrated
with a street fair in Budapest, though I was swimming at the Gellért
Baths that night and missed it.

20 June 2000

“My father, a man without any means, a student, before 1914, travelled the whole of Europe with a University of Vienna student canteen card, and there was only one bizarre country called the Russian Empire which had something called a visa. This was regarded as comical, as asiatic throughout the rest of Europe. Today, bureaucracies of exclusion prevail.” – George Steiner, No Passion Spent