Category: Travel Unravel

Is It Still Possible To Visit Socotra Island?

socotra dragon blood tree

The Socotra archipelago, particularly its main island, is one of the most neglected tourism destinations in the world. A big part of the reason, in addition to Socotra’s remote location in the Arabian Sea, is that it’s Yemeni territory. Despite being 380 kilometers (236 miles) off Yemen’s southern coast, visas, not to mention a precarious security situation on the mainland had kept most people away.

A frequent question I’m asked is whether or not it is still possible to visit Socotra, as Yemen’s civil war continues, bypassing the mainland altogether. The answer is technically yes; but you’re not going to like the details.

Flights To Socotra, Sounds Nice

I visited Socotra and the Yemeni mainland several months before war made it too dangerous for travel – obviously, a lot has changed since then. For a while, flights from Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates near Dubai on Felix Airways to Socotra’s capital Hadibu were infrequent, but flying occasionally. Those flights have stopped completely, despite the claims by a few tour operators in the UAE. I reached out to several of the tour operators in the UAE and Yemen, as well as some airlines who all floated the sentiment they were hopeful regular service would resume soon, despite there being no change for many months.

socotra island beach

Believe In Ferries

Some tour operators based out of the UAE sign people up to tours, claiming to arrange Socotra trips by ferry. Practically all are canceled, so be very weary before booking or giving money to any tour operator. All of the other options are fairly unofficial, such as traveler Johnny Ward coaxing his way on to a cement shipping boat, with a lot of local help.

“One whole week of phone calls, paperwork, cash, documents, visas etc. went by… to ensure my visa to Yemen wasn’t canceled… to ensure that immigration in Socotra would accept me via the cement boat.”

Clearly, not a travel plan possible, or desirable, by most of you.

Situation Determination

You really have to be persistent, determined, and adventurous to even attempt a trip to Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are substantial costs, not to mention risks, right now in doing so. Travel to Socotra is likely to be practically infeasible as the situation in mainland Yemen continues to deteriorate with more than 70% of the population – most of these peopleneeding humanitarian assistance.

Those of you still wondering why you might want to visit Yemen can take a look to what was and hopefully what may be again one day.

This Bridge In Sarajevo Is Where World War I Started And Nearly Didn’t

latin bridge sarajevo

History flows like a river but most of the time we concede we’re only privy to a small section viewed from the shore. But along the small Latin Bridge in Sarajevo over the shallow waters of the Miljacka River, history happened all at once and almost not at all.

It Begins With An Act Of Indecision

The 28th of June, 1914 began with Archduke Franz Ferdinand along with his wife Sophie, visiting the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo; then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ferdinand had went to Bosnia a few days prior to observe military operations, sent by his uncle Emperor Franz Josef. Bosnia and Herzegovina was annexed from the Ottomans in 1908 by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ferdinand was there to wave the flag (in the face of Serbian nationalists who made claim to the territory.

The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the WorldThe Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World

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Ferdinand was to inaugurate the new state museum in Sarajevo, accompanied by his wife Sophie who worried for his safety. On the morning of June 28th, Ferdinand was touring the city in his motorcade. He passed Muhamed Mehmedbasic, one of several Serbian nationalist conspirators who had planned to assassinate Ferdinand. Fearful, Mehmedbasic never used the grenade in his possession. The motorcade passes unmolested until coming across Nedjelko Cabrinovic, who did toss a grenade at the Archduke’s car. Bouncing off the vehicle it exploded behind Ferdinand’s car (since the driver sped up upon seeing it) injuring several members of Ferdinand’s entourage seriously.

latin bridge sarajevo bosnia and herzegovina

One Failed Murder, One Botched Suicide

Cabrinovic tried to kill himself by jumping into the Miljacka River which is often shallow. Only centimeters deep that particular day, Cabrinovic probably thought the expired cyanide pill he swallowed would finish him. As it were, the pill only made him ill and he was arrested.

latin bridge sarajevo

So, Ferdinand is still alive, having cheated death twice and a number of Serbian nationalist assassins have time to contemplate how it all went wrong. And wrong again. Plus some. One of Cabrinovic’s co-conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, frustrated with the morning of failed killing, went to a cafe on nearby Franz Josef Street, sulking at having missed all assassination opportunity.

latin bridge sarajevo

Elsewhere in Sarajevo, after some time passes, Ferdinand decides he wants to visit Sarajevo Hospital where the injured have been taken. Military officer General Oskar Potiorek, traveling with Ferdinand, advises the caravan avoid the city center. For unclear reasons, Potiorek never told the driver that. So, Ferdinand’s convoy continues across the Latin Bridge, makes a right turn… right on to Franz Josef Street.

Serendipity In Reverse

To Princip’s surprise Ferdinand’s car rolls towards him. The driver by now has been made aware of his mistake, tries to reverse, stalling the car’s engine in the process. Car stuck and seizing the opportunity, Princip opens the door shooting Ferdinand and Sophie. Both die within an hour; mobs attack Princip, disarming him. He’s later arrested. Austria-Hungary blames Serbia for the plot, declaring war one month later. Allied nations jump in to support both sides and World War I officially begins.

ferdinand assasination spot

Today, you can walk across the Latin Bridge, built in the 1550s by the Ottoman Empire, and see the plaque noting where Ferdinand and Sophie were killed on the corner of Franz Josef Street. Their assassination story is one of my favorites from history for the sheer amount of circumstance and implication of fate. Visiting these sites during a HYH City Tour (whom I highly recommend) was one of many highlights from my visit to the city you voted best to visit in 2012.

All Of The Bizarrely Large And Controversial Monuments Around Skopje, Macedonia

stone bridge skopje

You may not think of Macedonia’s capital city Skopje often, but once you’ve been there one thing nearly impossible to forget are the Mario-super-mushroom sized statues everywhere. Massive bronze statues sitting high up on stone pillars with the central Macedonian Square lit brighter than the near side of the sun, you can’t initially help but be impressed.

As unusual as the sight is from afar, things get even strangers the closer you look.

Rapid Rise And Transformation

All of the gigantic monument construction in Skopje began in 2011, as part of a government project to rebuild landmarks lost in a large 1963 earthquake. Within 2 years, more than 20 new buildings and 40 statues had been constructed, including a 22-meter (72 feet) tall Alexander The Great in the middle of Macedonia Square. Oh sorry, it’s called “Warrior On A Horse” wink wink, so as not to completely piss off Greece, who among many things has a problem with Macedonia calling itself Macedonia.

skopje macedonia construction

Locals also have a strong disdain for the gross displays of manufactured nationalism with money that might be better spent elsewhere. Estimated costs for the Skopje 2014 project range from 90-565 million US dollars; nearly 6% of the Macedonian GDP in a country with 25% unemployment. Such large ranges for costs estimates usually indicate unaccounted money – in other words, corruption – in a nation that doesn’t score well in that particular category internationally.

There is something to be said however for the potential tourism effect; since Skopje 2014 began, the country has seen an increase of 500,000 annual tourists, up three times the 2011 average.

skopje big statue skopje man on horse statue

Arch Of Abortion

Macedonia is clearly spending all of this money, upwards of 168 million dollars a year, to bolster an infant tourism industry. That makes one particular inscription, a quote by Mother Teresa who was born here, on its iconic Porta Macedonia Arch odd indeed:

porta macedonia arch

“I think that abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace today.”

Not the kind of message you expect to see on a tourist monument. Maybe, “welcome to Skopje” instead? Or perhaps another quote by Mother Teresa, “Never travel faster than your guardian angel can fly,” seems a little more travel-related?

Look Down On What Goes Up

The more you ask about Skopje’s newest landmarks with a dopey traveler’s naivete, it becomes increasingly clear Macedonians are very skeptical. You know there’s a big doubt when people look up at the 66-meter tall Millennium Cross (worth visiting I must say) and curse the government for building it while trying not to get struck by lightening.

skopje millennium cross

Though as a traveler passing through, you are drawn to the spectacle that illuminates memorable experiences like watching the universe from Macedonia Square. Skopje in particular becomes much easier to recommend because of the artificial ambiance that is contagious for everyone who visits these sights. A lot like Austin, Texas, Macedonia has chosen to keep Skopje weird, though I’m not sure how intentionally.

How Thick Are International Borders?

wagah border ceremony

We fly, drive, and occasionally walk right over lines that define boundaries between nations but you may have wondered how thick those markings on the ground actually are. Surely a border has some sort of width, especially since so many of them were drawn before GPS or highly accurate geographic measurements were possible. It turns out in many cases, borders aren’t very different from the imaginary lines Bugs Bunny would drawn in the sand to infuriate Yosemite Sam.

Borders Aren’t Created Equal

Originally most borders in the world were actually neutral zones called marshlands which evolved into the country lines we’re more familiar with today. Country lines separate sovereign nations but since there isn’t a convention on when or how a border should be drawn (usually they’re defined after a conflict of some sort) there are a lot of highly unusual international borders.

bugs bunny lines

Even Google Maps has created controversy before because they didn’t know quite where to draw a border – complicated by the fact that Costa Rica and Nicaragua can’t decide either.

Literally Lines On The Ground

At the daily Wagah border ceremony between India and Pakistan you’ll notice that guards from both sides enthusiastically march toward each other, only to turn facing away, several centimeters apart. Wagah’s elegant “I don’t like you” dance demonstrates that the line separating India and Pakistan is an infinitely thin marker denoted by a fence with white painted line on concrete.

Similarly, the much more friendly border between Belgium and the Netherlands is marked in some places by a few bricks or nothing at all which Mental Floss notes has caused some weirdness:

“The official border between Belgium and the Netherlands runs through living rooms, yards and cafes, so it’s possible – indeed, it happens more often than you’d think – to sit across a table having a cup of coffee with someone who is actually in a different country…For a while, a Dutch law requiring dining establishments to close earlier than they did in Belgium laid the foundation for an absurd, nightly charade in some Baarle restaurants. At closing time in the Netherlands, patrons would have to get up and move tables, over to the Belgian side.”

A lot like how embassies get their places in foreign countries, there isn’t a set way to draw up a border, they’re validity is only as good as the agreement between the sides involved.

mexican flagBroader Misconceptions

You might be under the impression that international borders are defined by physical boundaries, like parts of the U.S.-Mexico that happen to be along the Rio Grande River. Although the physical barrier of the river defined where the border would be, there’s actually an (imaginary) line in the waters equidistant between both the Mexican and United States shores. That’s the real international boundary although determining where shores lines are has caused numerous disputed along borders around the world, even between the U.S. states of Texas and Oklahoma until as recently as 2000.

Where Borders Bloat

Now that we know most borders are literally just lines drawn on the ground, another misconception is that they have to be lines at all. In fact, air and seaports are all considered borders themselves, which is why you’re not legally in another country until you cross the immigration line. (Remember the movie The Terminal?) When you’re in an airport on a layover, you’re technically “on the border” – one reason why your electronics are be subject to searches without probable cause in Western nations.

the terminalThe Terminal [Blu-ray]

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Next time you get a passport stamp (yay!) notice as you walk past the immigration booth, there’s probably a tape line on the floor or a small gate of some kind. Now you know what it represents.

Define The Line

There’s a good reason borders are marked with signs, lines, and people standing guard: they’re all made up. International borders are human constructs that need to be labeled to exist. For a few of you traveling wouldn’t be quite as fun without borders but let’s be happy many borders are as thin as they are – it’s always fun to hop between countries or hemispheres as you can do in Quito, Ecuador.

How To Properly Calculate The Number Of Days Left On A Schengen Visa

estonia tallinn square

Those of you who travel frequently in and out of Europe have likely had the same confounded expression many European immigration officials do when trying to figure out how many days you legally have left in the Schengen Area. It would seem Europeans also realized the confusion caused by vague wording of the previous rules because the European Commission (EC) decided in October 2013 to simplify the calculation.

This change might give you more (or less) days in Europe than you initially thought but in any case makes it much easier to ensure you don’t overstay.

schengen areaKnow The Schengen Before You Travel To Europe

Simply put, if you’re going anywhere in Europe for more than a few weeks during a given calendar year, familiarize yourself with the Schengen Area.

One of the great things for most European Union (EU) citizens – plus a few others like Norway and Switzerland who aren’t EU but are Schengen – is the agreement eliminates borders between the 26 member countries. For incoming tourists from 41 other countries who can enter visa free however, it means you have 90 days within 180 days in the entire Schengen.

Counting Using The Simplified Rules

So, you enter France for 45 days, that means you’ve got 45 total days left to travel around Spain, Finland, Denmark, [whatever random Schengen country]. Seems easy enough until you realize the 180 window could slide depending on how you counted it. (Here was one way I wrote about in 2012 to give an example.)

To clarify, the 180 days begins on the date (stamped in your passport) you first entered a Schengen country. That is day 1 (not day 0). From there, count out 180 days (a free online tool like dateandtime makes it quick) – now you know the window in which you have 90 days in the Schengen Area.

Remember, it’s not 3 months in every 6, although approximately accurate, you need to count the days. For example, if you entered the Schengen Area on February 15th, 2014 your 180 days would end on August 14th, 2014; regardless of how many days less than 90 you were actually there.

schengen calculatorEC Calculate Your Hectic Travel Schedule

Although it looks like it was designed in a 1998 high school web design class, the EC’s official Schengen Calculator is actually useful, especially if you have a number of entries and exits in a short span.

  • Use The Right Format – Inputting dates properly can be quite maddening because this tool is about as flexible as concrete. For clarity September 05, 2014 should be entered 050914. If you attempt to use a forward slash, full year, or logic, you’ll get cryptic popups shaking your laptop screen won’t resolve.

It’s worth noting that the 90 out of every 180 day Schengen rule also applies to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania independently. Since they aren’t Schengen members, any time you spend in those countries doesn’t add up against days in any other country.

Have The Embassy Check Your Math

Remember that the EC Schengen Calculator is only a tool to give you an idea on the number of days you’ve spent in the Schengen Area, it’s not legally worth squat. Use Embassy World to find contact information for the relevant office to confirm how many days are allotted for your nationality. You don’t want to overstay a tourist visa as doing so can result in fines or bans and if you’re a dual citizen be sure not to mix up your passports. Finally, all of the above pertains to only those of you who have visa-free or 90 days out of 180 travel rights – everyone else, the details are in your visa lines.

Have any Schengen calculation questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments below.


About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More

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