There’s that round-the-world travel comedy, If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium. Well, last week, if I was paying with lats, it must have been Wednesday.
This trip is what I think of as slow travel—(mostly) no whirlwind tours of countries and continents that only give a superficial view of a culture. I’ve spent more than a week in England, three in The Netherlands, a month in Belgium and a month in France, and I’m planning to spend more than three weeks in Turkey.
But getting to Turkey required some whirlwind travel and some whirlwind currency use. On an extreme budget, I went out of my way (from France to England to Latvia, in fact) to get to Turkey for a lower price.
My travel week and currency use looked like this:
9:30 a.m. Monday: bus from Paris (spending euros) to London
4:45 p.m. Monday: arrive in London (spending pounds)
7 p.m. Monday: hash with London H3
11:30 p.m. Monday: arrive with my bags at a friend’s house to stay the night in London
6:30 a.m. Tuesday: bus to Bath, England
11:20 a.m. Tuesday: arrive in Bath, spend the day touring
7:15 a.m. Wednesday: catch a ride to the train station to go to the airport for my flight to Riga, Latvia
6:00 p.m. Wednesday: arrive in Riga (spending lats)
8:15 a.m. Thursday: bus to the Riga airport for my flight to Istanbul
3 p.m. Thursday: arrive in Istanbul (spending lira, but my visa had to be paid for in U.S. dollars) and catch a ride to the small village where I’m staying
11 p.m. Thursday: arrive in the village, where I stayed put and caught my breath for a bit
Now I need a lesson on using lira. When I went to England for a month 12 years ago, I remember the use of British pounds totally blowing my mind. It was difficult for me to figure out which coin meant what, so paying for anything usually meant holding out a fist-full of change and letting the cashier sort it out. This year, using pounds wasn’t so bad. After a few days using the euro system, that was easy, too, which is a good thing, because I spent almost three months using it. The one night that I spent in Riga consisted of much the same tactic as summer 1999 in England. With several weeks in Turkey, though, I’m trying to get my liras sorted out quickly.
At home, I use my debit card for just about everything. It’s strange for me to be carrying cash at all. Overseas, cash is commonplace, as I never know where my debit card won’t be accepted. If you’re confused about why switching currencies is a big deal, consider that the size and weight of U.S. coins in each denomination match the size and weight of other currencies’ coins in other denominations. As if traveling and communicating in a foreign country weren’t difficult enough, it’s also a struggle to remember that a nickel is no longer a nickel.