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

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)

The Vibrant Culture + Colors of Brazil’s Salvador

August 3, 2014 by  

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Salvador, Brazil

When my plane landed in Salvador, Brazil recently, I was beyond exhausted. Not just physically – I’d just finished up five days in the otherwordly Lençóis Maranhenses, about half of which was spent reaching the park– but also mentally and emotionally. I hadn’t spoken more than 100 words of English since saying goodbye to my friend Leah in Rio, and the memory of my robbery in Ipanema still lingered in the back of the mind, causing paranoia to wash over me whenever I wandered into a populated place.

Then, there was the fact that every single person on the plane (besides me, of course) was decked out in their national soccer team’s colors – I was tired of the World Cup before it began, you might recall.

In many ways, perhaps like I’ve never been during such a short trip before, I was ready to go home as I walked out of Salvador Airport’s exit. But then, I saw a sign that changed everything.

Day One: Pelourinho

Literally a sign: The owner of my hotel, who’d surprisingly taken me up on my request to be picked up at the airport, was waiting with a piece of paper that bore not only my name, but my flashy email signature – which is to say, a huge picture of my face.

Second wind or not, I headed to bed pretty immediately upon arriving in Pelourinho, Salvador’s historic district, with the intent of spending the entire next day exploring it. The good news is that I’d hit it off Hansel, a German-Cuban traveler who was volunteering as receptionist of the hostel, and he’d agreed to accompany me on my adventures the next day. The bad news is that I couldn’t sleep (ironically, on account of the hostel’s excellent location, which was right above a major party street), so morning came a lot more harshly than it should’ve.

The thing about Pelourinho is that, while it’s unique for Brazil (none of the other Brazilian cities I’ve visited have comparable “old towns”), it evokes a lot of other places I’ve traveled in South America – namely, the old city of Cartagena, without the walls of course. And at a much higher elevation, to the extent that a contraption known as the Elevador Lacerda exists to transport tourists and residents alike from the old city, which is a couple hundred feet in elevation, down to sea level, whether to visit Mercado Modelo or to catch a ferry out. There’s also a semi-modern city beneath the more inviting old one, but it looked shady as fuck, so I didn’t venture in.

Back to the old city of Pelourinho. As I said, it’s pretty standard as far as South American historical districts go: Churches and plazas; long streets of extremely colorful houses; people dressed in traditional costumes (here, Afro-Brazilian baianas); fast food vendors; and, since this is South America, an inordinate number of armed police. I highlight these facts not to complain or berate Salvador, but because discovering this came as a massive relief to me: For the first time on a trip that seemed much longer than it should’ve, I was able to just relax (relatively speaking) and be a tourist. Salvador was certainly living up to its name, which translates to “savior” in English.

Day Two: Itaparica

Hansel and I had stayed out literally all day, from the early hours of morning until after the sunset – and we’d made the disastrous decision to share a large jug of a local spirit (which was not cachaça, but rather tasted like pure sugar cane juice infused with alcohol) as we watched the molten sphere sink into the sea. As a result I woke up on my second of three days in Salvador, which I’d designated for taking a day trip to the nearby island of Itaparica, feeling a little less than fresh. Actually, I felt downright horrible – I even considered for a moment that I might be slipping into food poisoning or, worse, dengue.

Nonetheless, I was awake, out the door and on-board a ferry by 9:30, which got to me to Itaparica’s shady-ass port less than an hour later. I say “shady” because literally every person who approached me was looking to sell me something, be it a taxi ride, a souvenir (didn’t I just get here) or, if you can believe it at 10-something in the morning, drugs. So although I had a vested interest in seeing the island’s Dutch-colonial (weird, right?) fort and historical district, I decided to peace the eff out and just walk along the coast by myself for a while.

Initially, I wondered whether this was the right decision. The neighborhoods I passed as I walked northward seemed decidedly run-down (some were visibly abandoned), to say nothing of the debris on the rugged beaches. I persisted, however, and wouldn’t you know? Both the terrestrial and coastal scenery became more and more bucolic the further I went, to the point where it seemed ludicrous that a city of over a million people sat just across the bay.

After about two hours of walking, I was beyond charmed by the castaway beauty of the island, the shy friendliness of its people and the growing sense of independence I felt, which built upon how liberating it had been to spend the day before as a simple tourist in Salvador’s old city. In spite of this, I still felt like crap, so when I arrived in the town of Bom Despacho, I headed to the island’s main bus station and hired a taxi for the rest of the day. My fatigue notwithstanding, this proved to be a questionable decision: Without the elements of discovery and local interaction, Itaparica was not nearly as special as it had been when I explored it on my own.

Day Three: Porto do Barra Beach

My last day in Salvador also happened to be my last day in Brazil, and since I hadn’t been swimming (save for a few dips in-between my dune trekking in the Lençóis) during my entire time in the country thus far, I’d planned to spend it lying on the beach – specifically at Porto do Barra, Salvador’s most iconic praia. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had different ideas, so I did exactly zero sunbathing.

With this being said, it was interesting to stroll along the famed beach and through the upscale neighborhood (which seems something of a poor man’s Copacabana) when it lacked its prized sunshine and warmth and when its shores were completely empty, save for some surfers who obviously had death wishes. This (and the greasy cheeseburger I enjoyed just before jetting to the airport to catch my flight back to the U.S.) was far from the perfect way to end my three days in Salvador (and my two weeks in Brazil), but it was strangely appropriate.

And, dare I say, satisfying?

 

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