About Robert Schrader

Robert Schrader

Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.


Latest Posts by Robert Schrader

The Breathtaking Georgian Caucasus Range & Amirani

September 19, 2014 by  

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The legend of Mt. Kazbeg, the jewel of the eastern Caucasus range – and one of Europe’s highest peaks – centers around Amirani, Georgian mythology’s answer to the Prometheus myth. As I reached the 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church, however, the 16,500-foot summit of Kazbeg towering above me, the words of a different legend came to mind: The haze condensing around me wasn’t quite purple, but I felt as much like Jimi in that moment as I ever will.

I turned my back on the haunting monastery and looked down on the town of Stepantsminda, whose metal-roofed houses looked as small as grains of sand beneath the jagged mountain peaks.

Not that I’ve never felt this way before. From the Alps to the Andes, and from the volcanoes of East Java, Indonesia to the bear-filled slopes of the Sierra Nevada, it’s no secret that I love to get as high as Hendrix, albeit it in a different way. Still, as I sat in the shadows of Mt. Kazbeg and breathed the cold mountain air in as deeply as I could, I knew that I had never been anyplace else like this. The best mountains are like the best lovers: No matter how many you’ve had before, or how good they’ve been, it always feels like the first time.

Like the very first time? OK, I promise no more classic rock references.

The point is that I cannot comprehend why Georgia is not the most popular country in the world for travelers – I can only assume, once word gets out, that it will be. I say this only having visited Tbilisi, the national capital, and now the region around Mt. Kazbeg: I’m just five days into a trip that will last almost two weeks and span two more countries. It’s a trip that’s only going to give me a small sample of everything the Caucasus has to offer, and will leave me feeling as satisfied that I decided to come here as I am devastated I don’t have longer.

My stay in mountainous eastern Georgia is certainly a microcosm of this larger truth. To be sure, although I supplemented my hike up to Gergeti Trinity Church with a day trip to the epic Juta Valley and the village of Sno (whose name I can only assume seems more apt in winter), I turned down more than a dozen other activities due to the length of my stay, ranging from scenic camping, to days-long trekking, to scaling Mt. Kazberg itself – with a guide, of course.

Oh well, here’s to next time!

 

Georgia’s Historical Capital of Tbilisi & All Things Balkan, Byzantine & Levantine

September 17, 2014 by  

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I know more about the history of the Caucasus than the average person, but I had absolutely no idea what to expect of modern-day Tbilisi when I arrived early Wednesday morning. I’d spent nearly 30 hours en route to the Georgian capital, but found myself strangely energized from basically the moment I stepped out onto the street.

This was in part due to my extraordinarily attractive taxi driver, in part due to the oppressive pounding of the bass in his black Mercedes (which wasn’t actually a taxi) and in part due to how off-guard Tbilisi took me as we approached it. Somewhere between Balkan, Byzantine and Levantine in its topography, its cityscape has a decidedly European ambiance: Historical, even timeless churches, fortresses and other structures, punctuated by strangely futuristic infrastructure.

My first on-the-ground Google search revealed to me that sunrise would occur at 6:21 a.m., and since it was already past four by the time I set my bags down in my hotel room, I thought setting out with my camera would be a better use of time than attempting to sleep – God knows I was feeling inspired.

And yet as I walked out onto the nearly empty streets of the city, and headed down the hill from where I was staying toward the river and the center of town, a strange sense of creative insecurity overcame me, due in no small part to how difficult my new tripod seemed to operate. I’ve always found evening photography intimidating, but when I’ve needed to take night shots, I’ve found stationary objects (and, more occasionally, my own core strength) to provide enough steadiness to avoid blur.

To be sure, between the time it took to find an ideal vantage point, the awkward process of figuring out the tripod and how frustrated I felt by the time both those issues were resolved, I had lost a great deal of my inspiration by the time I hit the shutter button for the first time. Not to mention, the sun was beginning to rise – and it wasn’t a particularly beautiful sunrise.

You might even say I was upset by the time I started heading back up the hill to my hotel, which is probably the first reason I took a liking to the sweet dog I passed on the way. He had some kind of plastic tag stapled in his ear, which told me he was either rabid or being tracked by the city, but whatever the reason I kept my distance – or at least I tried to.

And yet he followed me all the way up the hill to my hotel, even when an old woman on one of the grapevine-draped balconies along the way dropped a full loaf of bread onto the street, and even though I didn’t have any food to give him. I took my time making the journey of what should’ve been 15 minutes, stopping for five or even 10 to take a single photo – and I took many single photos by the time I arrived at my final destination, many of which had been of my companion.

A profound sadness began to my ache into my head and my heart as I opened the gate and closed it behind me, my four-legged friend waiting patiently on the ground – in his eyes, it seemed he was stopped short of expecting anything out of me, but was perhaps hoping for it. After a few minutes in my room sorting through my photos, I got a strange feeling that he wasn’t gone yet and sure enough, I opened the gate to find him patiently waiting. I gestured to him to stay a few minutes longer – if I was going to go back out into the city without even a cat nap, I needed to rinse off.

I hurried as fast as I could  but unfortunately, by the time I came downstairs again, he was gone. I hoped he had found food, or a more loyal friend – although given his physical condition, I was more fearful that someone had been mean or even abusive to him – but in my heart of hearts, I was deeply sad. His beautiful, wandering soul had held hands with mine, if only for mere moments, and his sudden disappearance drew attention to the solitude to which I’ve become much too accustomed.

I’ve been on the lookout for my canine companion while exploring Tbilisi the past couple days, but my search has thus far come up empty. In spite of how briefly I knew this dear creature, the vacuum his absence created has proven curative to the strange creative insecurity I felt just before I met him – I hope my presence bestowed a similar gift upon him.

Tbilisi, Georgia

Knowing the Rules & Passenger Rights Before You Book Your Flight

September 14, 2014 by  

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What Are Your Rights as an Airline Passenger?

In spite of how much I travel, I’m generally pretty lucky when it comes to delayed and canceled flights. Since never check baggage, I also never have to worry about losing bags or seeking compensation for lost bags. As a general rule, you could say the topic of “Airline Passenger Rights” never crosses my mind.

That all changed earlier this year, when I was flying home to see my family – or at least, when I was scheduled to fly home.

“Your flight to Chicago will be delayed by at least an hour,” the gate agent in Austin informed me, “which means that you’ll miss your flight to St. Louis – the last flight to St. Louis.”

I was freaking out inside my head, but on the surface I was calm. I hadn’t consulted www.flightright.com to learn my passenger rights, but I was pretty certain I knew them. Or was I?

Compensation for Delayed or Canceled Flights

That’s no problem, I thought, before confirming with the gate agent that this was actually the case. They’ll just book a hotel for me in Chicago, and I’ll take the first flight out tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple.

“Your inbound flight is delayed due to weather,” she explained, when I presumptively asked how and when I would receive my hotel voucher. “We don’t offer any compensation for acts of God.”

“No food, even?” I asked, slightly panicked. “No lounge access?”

 She shook her head. “But we may be able to get you on a flight with a different airline.”

Airlines are only legally required to compensate you for a delayed or canceled flight when it relates to issues they can control – equipment malfunctions or crew delays, for example. For external circumstances like weather and air traffic, you are mostly on your own, although if you ask nicely, the gate agent may try and confirm a seat for you on another airline’s flight, by virtue of something known as an interline agreement.

Denied Boarding Compensation

But what if you are denied boarding on a flight that arrives and departs on time? In this instance, be it due to overbooking or another factor, the issue of denied boarding compensation comes into play.

In some cases the airline must pay you cash, in addition to providing you with a confirmed seat on another flight. On a recent flight from Newark to Austin, for example, United Airlines was offering up to $700 for passengers to give up their seats on a severely overbooked flight. No one volunteered, so they had to bump several passengers involuntarily, leading to even higher denied boarding compensation.

Under other circumstances, you are not eligible for denied boarding compensation. For example, if you are not in your gate area when the final boarding call for your flight is made, you may have to buy a new ticket entirely. Likewise, if you are denied boarding due to intoxication, you not only risk losing your seat, but incurring legal action in some jurisdictions.

Compensation for Lost or Stolen Baggage

When I was traveling in Bolivia in 2011, I met an Englishman named Nick. In spite of how cute Nick looked in the clothes he was wearing, they weren’t his.

“Our luggage got stolen on the way to Caracas,” he said, after telling me about his and his friend’s trip up to that point. “Thankfully, BA gave us 500 quid so we could buy new clothes.

“Unfortunately,” he continued, laughing, “these clothes neither suit nor fit me.”

The main reason I never check luggage is because, eventual compensation notwithstanding, the process of being reimbursed for lost, stolen or delayed luggage can be long and complicated – you might not get the money until after your trip. And that’s if you get any! Plus, each airline has different maximum liabilities depending on from where and to where you’re flying, which can make it confusing even to know your entitlements.

Exploring Vietnam Through a Camera Lens in Full Color

September 1, 2014 by  

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Vietnam was the first country I visited after officially becoming location-independent, and for that reason alone it will always hold a special significance to me. In this way, my trip to Vietnam was also one of the last I took purely as a traveler, and not as a “travel blogger,” “travel writer” or “travel photographer.” Looking back through my photos and reading back through the writing I did at the time, I find work that is both embarrassing and refreshing in how unfocused it is.

 

Five Star Luxury at Bali’s Grand Mirage Resort

August 15, 2014 by  

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Grand Mirage Bali Resort

 

The five-star Bali resort, Grand Mirage Resort & Thalasso Bali, is exquisitely situated on the beige powdery sand-beach pointing the azure Indian Ocean. It is renowned as a leading resort that delivers unbeatable all-inclusive experiences. Once you book the all-inclusive package, you will enjoy the cozy room, appetizing food, fresh drink, fun activities, and relaxing spa treatments.

The Room

There are 301 rooms and suites in the four-storey building. All are tastefully designed with typical Balinese decoration. You can choose the garden vista of Deluxe Garden View Room or the ocean panorama of Deluxe Ocean View Room. Both of them are exceptional. Those two categories of rooms measure 42 sqm with either double or twin bed. If you prefer a bigger room, you can stay at Ocean View Suite. The suite is 80 sqm with separate seating area.

Are you traveling with your family or your couple? This resort provides special rooms for both couple and family. Romantic Ocean View Room is purposely for couple. The room is appointed with a double bed with canopy. For a family holiday, Grand Mirage Resort & Thalasso Bali features Family Ocean View Suite- a spacious suite with two king-size beds.

The Food & Beverage

This leading resort offers 3 restaurants and 2 bars plus 24-hour room service. The all-inclusive package allows the customers to taste the dishes in those restaurants and selected beverages in the bars. What a paradise for foodies! There is a 24-hour restaurant, Grand Café that offers awesome view of the pool and the sea. The Italian food lovers can grab a seat in La Cascata which is open only for dinner. Another restaurant is Jukung Grill- an al fresco restaurant on the beach serving grilled meat.

If you love to soak in a swimming pool while sipping the cocktails, Coconut Pool bar is a perfect spot for you. This swim-up bar offers fresh juices, mocktails, and cocktails. On top of that, there is Panorama lounge in the lobby level with a vision to the ocean.

The Activities

Grand Mirage Resort & Thalasso Bali offers miscellaneous activities from sports to cultural activities. For those who long to explore the sea, water sport like Seawalker, catamaran, will suit you well. The culture traveler will love janur weaving, Balinese cooking class, and Balinese costumes.

The Spa

Thalasso Bali Spa is renowned with its unique treatments that apply oceanic elements such as seaweed and seawater. The signature treatment of this spa is aquamedic pool- a 380 sea water pool. The pool is equipped with jets that will press several points of the body and bring you to a notable relaxing moment.

Meandering Through Brazil One Photo at a Time

August 8, 2014 by  

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Ipanema Beach

The World Cup. Brazil. Don’t they go together? “I hope they lose,” he said, “he” being Marcello, the owner of the hotel where I was staying in Salvador, Brazil; “they” being Brazil’s national football team. “If they win, it will send the wrong message to the world and to the people of this country.”

He pointed up at the young woman walking across the bridge that draped over the packed highway. “It will say that it’s OK for me to be driving in this new car, while she walks that dangerous path lined with drug dealers and thieves.

“Or that it’s fine,” he continued, directing my attention to the dilapidated rail track above the left side of the road, “that this piece of shit sits for 15 years unfinished, until all of a sudden we get the World Cup and the tourists need to use it.

“Never mind the hundreds of thousands of us stuck on the road,” he pointed back toward the highway, which was now essentially a parking lot.

It’s a cynical outlook toward a country where Marcello has spent his whole life, but one with which I empathized to a point. Just a couple weeks before, after all, I’d experienced the first theft of my life, to say nothing of the grinding halt to which the Cup had brought Rio de Janeiro during my time there.

And it wasn’t just in the cities. Brazil’s poor rural infrastructure had nearly prevented my life-changing trek in the Lençóis Maranhenses from happening at all, to say nothing of how anxious I felt for much of my trip due to the (Portuguese) linguistic homogeneity of all but the most educated elements of Brazilian society.

“That one’s a fool,” Marcello continued, pointing to a car with two Brazilian flags taped to either of its mirrors, in a show of support for the impending game everyone was heading home to watch. “And that one too. And that one too.

“But it’s not their fault,” he was quick to concede. “You know, only the most clever people even get to go to University here – I was lucky enough to be one of them. The real joke, however, is that once you get there, it’s almost like they steal knowledge from you. They narrow your perspective instead of broaden it. It’s a joke, just like the roads and the government and the economy and all of it.”

Marcello had used the temporary standstill to put on some Brazilian light rock from the 1970s, and as we started moving again (he clearly needed a break from ranting, beads of sweat forming on his face), he turned it up so it drowned out the honking and cheering and motor sounds coming from outside.

As we moved along the road, first at a slow crawl and then at a speed that was almost terrifying by contrast, the beat of the song, and the singer’s smooth, sweet voice proved the perfect foil to the harshness that surrounded us on all sides.

And I began to appreciate, not for the first time ever but for the first time in a while, the seemingly deliberate way modern Brazilian society mimics and shadows the jungle into which it is built: The penthouses of the Miami-esque skyscrapers in Salvador’s nova cidade like the top reaches of the canopy; the beautiful men and women like the birds and butterflies carried on the breeze; the storied colonial buildings and comfortable single-family homes like palms and banana trees; the forgotten poor like the decomposing floor of the rainforest, taken for granted by the plants and animals that dwell upon and within it, but central to their survival.

In both cases, the Brazilian government is a brutal buzzsaw cutting through it all, leaving what remains vulnerable to harsh sun. And in both cases, whether we’re talking about mosquitoes carrying deadly diseases or more sentient pests carrying firearms, the surreal beauty comes at a high price.

“It’s jungle capitalism,” Marcello continued as the car slowed again, turning down the music so I could hear him. “A few thugs – the government; the oil companies; the banks – come in and take control of everything that allows our jungle society to thrive, and sell us back only what we need to survive at a price that nearly kills us.

“Did you know,” he said, pointing to the hood of his car, “that over 50% of what I paid for this car is tax? And the worst part is that Brazilians, with their poor education and football obsession and their misplaced optimism that the tax they pay will buy them honest politicians, will happily pay whatever is asked of them.

“And so I hope they lose – I hope we lose,” he concluded, “because only then will we all be forced to wake up from this dream, to find our way out of this nightmare.”

As we neared the airport, I began to feel sentimental about my impending goodbye to Brazil, in spite of Marcello’s diatribe – and maybe because of it, too. Brazil is a country where danger lurks around every corner, but you dance to meet him; where the only thing more overwhelming than the sweetness of a caipirinha is the foul the stench of spilled ones rotting in the sun; where nothing works, but everything feels so damn good.

In spite of all this – and again, maybe because of it – I hope you visit Brazil. And I hope my photos, whether you appreciate them independently of this text or as a digestive to wash it down, make you want to go there as much as I want to go back someday.

 

Fabulous Images Traveling Through Egypt

August 7, 2014 by  

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With all the turmoil going on in the Middle East these days, I have been reminiscing on my travels in the region a lot, from the most distant (my arrival in Beirut nearly four years ago) until the most recent, last autumn in Israel. In particular, the two weeks I spent in Egypt back in late 2011 remain vivid in my mind, and not just because Egypt was a place I’d wanted to visit since I was a mummy-obsessed preschooler.

My trip to Egypt was everything I’d ever hoped it would be (well, maybe it wasn’t quite long enough), but what’s funny is that in spite of my having visited just months after the 2011 revolution, I didn’t encounter one situation where I felt unsafe. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Egyptians are some of the kindest, most peaceful people I’ve ever met. If anything I felt sad for them – many of the people I met had been financially decimated by the downturn in tourism, which I argued at the time was born more of media sensationalism than of actual facts.

I haven’t been to Egypt in nearly three years, so I can’t comment for sure one way or another about the safety of travel in Egypt right now. What I will say is that both in travel and in life, risk is always commensurate with reward – and few places in the world are more rewarding to visit than Egypt. I think you’ll feel the same way after scrolling through these photos.

5 Off the Beaten Path Things to See in London

August 5, 2014 by  

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London Double-Decker BusLondon will always hold a special place in my heart – it was the first international city I ever visited! Below is a spotlight on some of the less traditional things to do in London.

1. Kew Gardens

Image credit (via Creative Commons License) I’ve heard of Kew Gardens many times before, but it wasn’t until I read a feature about them, which reminded me of the impressive fact that they constitute the vastest collection of plants in the world, that I realized what a mistake I made in not visiting them.

2. Camden Town

Image credit (via Creative Commons License) I did a fair bit of urban walking during my first trip to London, but I had not yet reached the point as a traveler where I intentionally explored specific neighborhoods, let alone writing about or taking photographs of them. Camden is probably the top London neighborhood I want to see at this point, in large part due to the attention Amy Winehouse drew to it near the end of her life.

3. London’s Smallest Church

Image credit (via Creative Commons License) One place I visited during my first trip to London was St. Paul’s Cathedral, an iconic landmark with an interesting history, especially for Americans. What I didn’t know is that an extremely small replica of the cathedral can be found under Vauxhall Bridge. Judging from pictures, it looks a bit like the spirit houses you see all over Southeast Asia, but I’d have to see for myself to make a final judgment.

4. The Monument

Image credit (via Creative Commons License) You’re probably thinking I missed a word in this section’s title, but in fact the place of “The Monument” in London’s history is so great it doesn’t need qualifiers. Specifically, it’s been around since the year 1666, when it was erected to symbolize the city’s resolve in moving forward from London’s great fire.

5. Highgate Cemetery

Image credit (via Creative Commons License) I love a good urban cemetery, and London’s Highgate Cemetery is right up there with the best of them. So huge in size in seems like a city, the cemetery is the final resting place of many famous people, the most notorious being Karl Marx, father of socialism. Do you have any items to add to this list? Main image credit (via Creative Commons license)

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