Russia Is Afraid Its Citizens Will Never Be Allowed To Come Home, Issues Travel Warning

Travel warnings are issued for a variety of reasons, be it social and political unrest, the threat of terrorism or even health. But Russia has now found a new reason to warn people against travel: the fear of their citizens not being allowed to return home.

As reported by the New York Times, the Russian Foreign Ministry bulletin state: “Warning for Russian citizens traveling internationally … Recently, detentions of Russian citizens in various countries, at the request of American law enforcement, have become more frequent — with the goal of extradition and legal prosecution in the United States.”There’s no denying that extradition issues between Russia and the United States have heightened with the Edward Snowden case, but is the threat of detention and inability to return home really a fear for all Russian citizens? Probably not, but the Russian government does feel that its citizens get treated unfairly. From the Foreign Ministry: “Experience shows that the judicial proceedings against those who were in fact kidnapped and taken to the U.S. are of a biased character, based on shaky evidence, and clearly tilted toward conviction.”

The number of Russian tourists traveling around the world is increasing, up almost 25 percent from numbers in 2012. Only time will tell whether such government warnings will have an affect.

Help arrives for Indonesian tsunami victims

After a 7.7-magnitude earthquake and 10-foot tsunami hit Indonesia Monday, killing at least 272 people, relief efforts have arrived to help the wounded, search for the hundreds still missing, and bury the dead. The first cargo plane loaded down with 16 tons of tents, medicine, food and clothes arrived today after weather relented long enough for search and rescue teams to arrive. Many villages near the coast were completely destroyed by the waves.

The Mentawai Islands are a popular destination for surfers, though their location in the Pacific Ring of Fire make them prone to seismic activity. Ten tourists arrived in Pedang today to tell their story after 24 hours lost in the Indian Ocean, including an American. According to the Associated Press, the anchored tourist boat was hit by a wall of water smashed them into a neighboring vessel, triggering a fire that quickly ripped through their cabin. “They hit us directly in the side of the boat, piercing a fuel tank,” said Daniel North, the American crew member. “Almost immediately, the captain gave the order to abandon ship and everyone got off the boat.” They clung to surfboards and then climbed the highest trees they could find to await rescue.

The tsunami hit the Mentawai Islands, about 149 miles south of Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra, along the same fault line as the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that killed 230,000. Less than a day after the tsunami, a volcano erupted 800 miles to the east, killing more than two dozen people and displacing thousands. No travel alert has been set yet by the US Department of State for Indonesia, though a June alert is in affect for Pacific typhoons until December 1.

[Photo source: Wikipedia Commons]

The seedy side of Istanbul

Turkey isn’t all mosques and markets or comfy long-distance buses. It may come as a surprise that prostitution is legal in this predominantly Muslim country and drugs, while illegal, are a brisk business. Like any big city, there are nice neighborhoods and sketchy ones in Istanbul, and most tourists will rarely stumble into the areas with bad reputations, but some are within stumbling distance of Istanbul’s hot spots. I stumbled into several of the most notorious areas recently and was surprised at what I saw.

Tarlabaşı Bulvarı stretches southwest of Taksim Square (Istanbul’s answer to Times Square), just above the busy pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, and forms the border of the largely immigrant neighborhood of Tarlabaşı. Look in any guidebook or ask a local and they’ll warn you about petty crime, transsexual prostitutes, and drug dealing, particularly at night. By day, the neighborhood is full of crumbling buildings, hanging laundry, and children playing in the street. At best, you could call it atmospheric “real Istanbul” and at worst, a rundown and poor area. One Friday night I found myself in a lively bar with a few friends just behind Tarlabaşı’s main drag, where the beer was cheap, atmosphere friendly, and the women were actually men. A street vendor outside was so amused to see an actual woman that he gave me a free sample of çiğ köfte, a sort of Turkish street version of steak tartare. It felt oddly appropriate to snack on raw meat while chatting with Moldovian pre-op lady boys.

On the other side of the Golden Horn, Aksaray isn’t a popular area for sightseeing, but the tram line runs right through it, connecting with the Metro line to the airport. For expats, it’s a necessary pilgramage to make each year to apply for or renew your residence permit. One Sunday afternoon after a failed visit to the nearby Horhor Bit Pazari antique market (closed Sunday), I sat drinking tea at a cafe when I became aware of the fact that every man was staring at me. It turns out this is because nearly all of the non-Turkish women in Aksaray are prostitutes, mostly from Eastern Europe, and many of the area “night clubs” are fronts for brothels or bars that may charge you several hundred dollars for the privilege of drinking with a lady. I wandered up a side street in broad daylight full of night clubs and hotels and noticed every table lined with over made-up women sipping cocktails and looking damaged. The experience was so uncomfortable that I considered breaking into a sprint so I could get off the street faster, but I was not approached or solicited.

While these neighborhoods might not be added to the tourist trail anytime soon, they show another side of a very complicated and ever-changing city. Gentrification is moving in and soon Tarlabaşı could be the next trendy “Soho of Istanbul.” As in any major metropolitan city when you find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks, caution and common sense should prevail. Stay calm, stay in well lit areas, and try to get the hell out of Dodge as fast you can. Though you may find that the places with the worst reputations are over-exaggerated and that sometimes a busy street in the day can be scarier than a dangerous nightspot.

Funny warning signs keep us safe/amused

The world is a dangerous place. Or so the safety signs we encounter on our travels would have us believe. Thankfully, the same people who try to scare us away from sharp objects, deadly animals and steep cliffs also have a fantastic sense of humor. How else could you explain the fascinating amount of truly hysterical warning signs that are displayed all over the world? From my hometown of New York to the Northern Territory of Australia, I’ve seen warning signs for any number of dangerous situations and more often than not, they’ve elicited more laughter than fear.

That’s not to say that these signs don’t have merit. To the contrary, safety signs should always be followed and care should be taken whenever they are present. But, as you walk around the mouth of the active volcano or avoid the snap of the crocodiles teeth, enjoy a hearty belly laugh. Just because you’re defying death doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun doing it.

What situations are the most dangerously hysterical? Let’s take a tour of amusing safety signs from around the globe.

%Gallery-88255%Watch your hands!
Subways can be death traps. If the train doesn’t hit you, its doors will eat your rabbit paws. Stand clear of the closing doors, please!

No diving!
Cliff diving is popular from Mexico to New Zealand. But, unlike the public pool that you went to when you still wore floaties, there are no markers telling you the depth of the water. Sure, that lake at the bottom of the waterfall looks deep enough to safely welcome you after your plunge from 100 feet up, but who’s to say it’s not just shallow and murky? Maybe those rocks aren’t as soft as they look? Perhaps – and I’m just thinking out loud here – diving into a rocky abyss against the advice of a sign that uses simple mathematical symbols and disturbing images is not the best strategy. If you need an adrenaline rush that will also cool you off, try dropping the soap in the communal shower at your hostel.

Heads up!
Think airports are safe thanks to the TSA? Well, what about outside of the airport? Simply walking near a runway can be dangerous. Remember that airplanes always have the right of way. If you see one coming, best to curl up into a ball, soil yourself and apologize to your friend for the blood splatter that he’s about to get on his shirt.

Crocs aren’t just ugly shoes!

Crocodiles haven’t survived for millions of years by being idiots. They’re intelligent creatures who are as smart as they are powerful. Just because they could kill you with one bite doesn’t mean that they also couldn’t defeat you in a Mathlete competition. So, if someone spent an afternoon frantically scribbling a sign alerting you that there are crocodiles stalking boats and people, you damn well better listen to that warning. Because if a crocodile wants to find you, it will. And by the time you look at the caller ID on your phone and see that the croc is calling from inside the house, it’s too late.

Slippery when wet!
Achtung! Slip and falls are all too common and result in everything from sprained ankles to concussions to permanent death. If a sign tells you to avoid slipping into a swirling black hole that may lead to Hell and/or a netherworld, best to heed its warning.

I could go on and on, but perhaps you should just check out our gallery of warning signs to properly understand the dangers that loom all around. As you travel the world, please do obey all safety signs…and have a blast doing it!

Top tourist sights Americans can’t visit

As you might realize, there are certain countries that are considered “no-go’s” for American travelers, be it for political or economic or other reasons. Publication Foreign Policy took a closer look at this question of prohibited places, recently creating a list of the “Top Tourist Spots Americans Can’t Visit,” a rundown of the top tourist attractions in otherwise “taboo” locations like Iran, Somalia, Burma and Cuba. Who knew Mogadishu had coral reefs teeming with fish just off the shore? Too bad you’re likely to be kidnapped by warlords if you try to visit.

While this sort of list is a deterrent for many, others eat common sense for breakfast, bringing back some fascinating stories in the process. It’s not that they can’t see the danger – these countries can be violent, unstable, and often downright nasty places. But that doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer. Many have distinguished histories as centers of culture, great monuments and great natural wonders. As Foreign Policy points out for instance, the vast ruins of Persepolis in Southern Iran offer a breathtaking view of the tombs and palaces of Persian rulers Xerxes I and Darius the Great. In Cuba, the settlement of Baracoa was the colonial home of Spanish Conquistadors, and also one of the first places Columbus set foot in the New World.

Check out the list. Nobody is suggesting you should/can make a visit, but these places can offer us further insight into the many subtleties that truly define a location’s identity.

The world’s dirtiest cities

[Via MetaFilter]