Category Archives: Voyage

Sweet Sweden

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It’s always a thrill to go to a foreign country. It’s the smells, the sights, the sounds, the feelings and the tastes. It was the same feeling when we arrived in Stockholm at the Kom Hotel on Dobelnsgatan. Don’t worry. I don’t expect you to remember that.

Only about half an hours walk leads you to the harbour area, an area of the city that must have embellished its charm from other cities. It does seem odd that a city could have such heaps of the stuff. But its a different sort to most cities. This is very casual, very open, very……Swedish.

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On the first day, we came into the city’s central station where we disembarked. Fresh Scandinavian pastries were available here and the lingonberry jam‘s scent wafted throughout the entire station. It drew us to the cafe like bees to honey! The jam is the same kind as you get at IKEA. Twice as good.

They were as scrumptious as they smelt. Anyway, it was only a brief walk to the hotel room. A five-star one as well. Excellent. Neither was breakfast. I think they must measure them in tons, not calories!

We crammed ourselves full of scrambled eggs, orange juice, more scrambled eggs, which were delicious, and some swedish cereal. I don’t know what it was called but it smelled of fresh berries and fruit. The juices were as good as any.

Our consumption of large amounts of food was not without reason. Sweden is expensive, including its public transport, except for the bus to the airport. This means walking everywhere, which is counteracted by the fact that Stockholm is a small city.

It is split up amongst about thirty islands and has much to offer. For instance, there is the famous wreck of the warship Vasa, a sixteenth century warship now housed in a museum of its own. This is a fabulous exhibit! You may view the ship in all her glory!

Vasa

The ship overturned in Stockholm harbour, due to a top-heavy design, overloading and open gun-ports. Come on, Sweden, you guys know better than that. Your pride is hurt! Try, try again! They are a mostly neutral country.

The exhibit actually allows you to physically walk onto the gun-deck. Breathtaking. More so are the items that were recovered from the waters around the ship. These include food, clothing, drink, coins, cutlery and a game of backgammon, among other objects.

Skansen is definitely the largest and, hardly doubtfully, the best open-air museum in the country. It is fully functioning 19th century village that has worker in period costume who are experts in their field. Want to see a glass moose being made at the glass-blower‘s? You can buy one, too.

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Summer courses in arts and crafts exist here. Just click the link to find out more www.skansen.se. There’s everything here from wild animals to yearly events such as singalongs and summer festivals.

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This is part of the country’s character, also of Scandinavia‘s character. Norway and Denmark are just the same and pricy too. That means that the retail area of the city will wipe you out, with reference to Scandinavia’s chic reputation.

It’s easy to see from where this reputation occurred. They are an immaculately dressed, clean nation of people who instantly have an uncanny talent in terms of fashion sense. It is this that leads us to the shopping district of the city.

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The district has much wider streets, for obvious reasons, than, say, the medieval heart of the city…Gamla Stan. More people, especially tourists, means wider streets. We spent the third day buying items of clothing.

Despite having said afterwards that it was mind-crushingly boring to me, now I like it. Strange, isn’t it. We learn to like some things later in life. This city captivated me when we went there and it would certainly do the same again. It had a well-roundedness that is only comparable to London or Paris.

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The harbour area? Well, we had a good old tour around the harbour on a tour boat with an English-speaking guide and saw the other islands. If I rightly recall, the tour was about 30 minutes and the old naval officer’s college was on the itinerary.

Don’t quote me, though. The boats are small in length. They were a little bit cramped. But, otherwise, they are as fine as any in the business. The waters that day were as crystal and glassy as any fairytale and have a unique air to them with their smell.

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As for the Royal Palace, frankly, it was a let-down. The building is extremely boring in architecture and that was the chief problem we had with the whole experience. The actual guards with their sky-blue uniforms and heavy-duty rifles look absolutely splendid.

They are the oldest still serving cavalry regiment in Sweden. Gold pickelhaube helmets adorn their heads. We observed them before going on parade and they were as playful a children. Thats nice to see. Not as regimented as we might assume.

Their opposite numbers were Swedish Marine Corps infantry who had a much more dull grey tunic and trousers, coupled with berets for headgear. Their band was exceptional and their drill made you forget that they weren’t all one person.

As the cavalry soldiers began to form up on foot and began to run around perimeter, in time and sequence with each other, the marine band commenced its overture. All in all, the Royal Palace was pretty good…and the trip was fantastic!

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So it came to pass that we headed home on a highway that reminded me very much of the ones I was used to in Canada, especially because they drove on the right. However, we saw typical Swedish countryside going by and even a moose!

As the farmhouses flanking the road passed, I thought to myself about what a wonderful time I had and about the lovely country I’d had it in. People ask me why I go to foreign countries when I could just look at google images.

I go for all the reasons I can not utter…

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Maltese Margherita

Courthouse, Valletta, Malta

Courthouse, Valletta, Malta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Mediterranean warmth, it is easy to get carried away with yourself. I wasn’t. I was stuck in Sliema, Malta, with no Euros. Plenty of money if you counted the Pounds Sterling. This happened for a simple reason.

After being deterred from transferring my money into Euros three days later, I had decided to wait too long. Now I was there with no money.

This wasn’t going to be solved easily either. It was a Sunday, when businesses are closed, and I had arrived on the day, of all days, when the Labour Party won over the Nationalist party for the first time in twenty-five years.

That meant that the following day was a bank holiday. Great. This meant that I would have a hard time finding a place to transfer money the next day.

But, for now, all I needed was to eat. Eventually, I found a pizza hut where I ate a Margherita and was able to have another customer put the meal on their tab, later transferring the pounds sterling they received. That was really nice of them!

Venice and Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik“. The name conjures up images of a city so beautiful, many respect it as paradise. The town, as you enter it, sets a sight that you’ll never forget. The entrance to the old town from the north is very quaint indeed.

You walk slowly down a windy, s-shaped street that descends gradually towards the water until you reach the shaded area that has a waterfront overlooking the harbour from the south.

The 'old town' of Dubrovnik From the photograp...

The ‘old town’ of Dubrovnik From the photographer: Canon 5d + 24-70mm @ 45mm Slik Sprint Pro 2 tripod Redsnapper RSH-61 ballhead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many cafes stretch across fortified medieval city walls next to the water’s edge. It’s a lovely cool walk along the pavement down here and you may also find harbour tours. The sea was as turquoise as the word itself. The waters as calm as silk.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there.

There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot. It was here that we spent the day, drinking cold drinks, repeatedly saying how gorgeous it was and basking in the sun.

The drive home was uneventful. We dined eagerly by Split‘s Old Town harbour area and boarded the ferry for Ancona. The boarding process was long and laborious and the passage equally so.

 

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore ...

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore en route from Dubrovnik to Split, Croatia. June 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The unloading process was dreadful. The cars were being brought off the ship at the same time the walk-off passengers! Ancona.

The town of seagulls! Not much to see here…just a dreary port and its docks. Full speed ahead to Venice!

There is one thing that I will never forget about the day we arrived. The rain. Boy it poured! It I stared deep into the blue. I was thoughtful.

Happy. Contented. Many good things. After all, maybe life had a calling for me after all. I was, of course, in Croatia.

A country that must have some of the most desirable coast in Europe. Our location, at that point, was a hotel just south of Split. We were situated by the sea as well.

Always a plus. We sat out on the terrace and had a scrumptious breakfast. We set out around eight-thirty.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there. There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot.

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As for the hotel, very posh. It was quite a walk from here to the train station. And the trains were crowded too, cattle class. In fact, I recall my mother saying that she was quite claustrophobic.

The train stopped at a lot of stations before reaching Venice and we passed Marco Polo Intl. Venezia Santa Lucia is the main station and you’ll have, at some point, to pass through Venezia Mestre station on solid land if you wish to see the island city.

 

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venice-grand-canal-from-train-station (Photo credit: hartingale)

 

Once you’re there, then the fun begins. You’ll be able to enjoy the famous “Vaporetto’s”. These famous little boats are the buses and life-blood of Venice.

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The Rialto bridge . My mother spent some time photographing this as I eagerly looked on. The rain had abated and I had removed my raincoat.

It was really magical, despite the smell of the brown stuff. The sun began to shine from behind those dark and brooding clouds above.

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How about seeing the Piazza San Marco. Thats a wonderful place. You pay a small fee to go up the tower and have the most wonderful view. The centre of the tower stretches high above the square and you can see the whole city from here!

I took the sight in really well, feeling slightly giddy because of the height, and returned to terra firma.

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After this, we felt like having a drink. Why not stop off in a Cafe? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because two regular-sized glasses of lemonade will set you back six Euros! Yeah, its expensive here. Next, the shopping district. After a happy hour here, we headed again for our water-bus Vaporettos and casually made our way back to Central Station.

During our stay, a cruise ship came into harbour. Sacrilege if you ask me. Why couldn’t that hundred-thousand-plus-tonne monstrosity stay outside the city and boat its passengers into the city. The passengers were quite irritating too. Loud. Smelly. Overweight.

 

At least we left the next day. I never thought I’d say that about Venice, but I’d had just the right dose of holiday…

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I scanned the sky but never saw them. I kept training my eyes through the planes window…did I just see green? I don’t know. I was tired.

But keep looking…no. No sign of them. The Aurora Borealis were elusive this year. Welcome to Tromso!

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Tromso (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

What was stunning and worth the trip, though, was the sight of the fjord in the grey dusk light that evening, capped with snow on the peaks surrounding and on the Island of Tromsoya, home to Tromso, in the middle. This sight made the trip more than worthwhile.

 

 

After arrival, I headed for the Tourism Information desk and was answered by a nice Norwegian girl, who was typical of Scandinavian beauty, with a pleasant demeanour about her.

I asked for a map of Tromso. It was a worthy addition. Anyway, now for a cab. The fare set me back as it does in this part of the world. My wallet was emptied…completely.

But the ride was only twenty minutes. My accommodation was a small hostel-like affair with four rooms that also doubled as the owner’s family house.

“Home Sleep” for any of you who wish to keep it in mind. Its supposed to be a good location for viewing the Northern lights most of the time, though.

Tromsø from Above II

Tromsø from Above II (Photo credit: Adrián Pérez)

Upon turning up, I gazed at the house and noticed that it looked as though nobody was home. I walked up to the door and knocked. No answer.

After a brief conversation over the phone and having asked next door, we  agreed that Samuel, the co-owner, would be home shortly. No prob.

Tromso

Tromso (Photo credit: Richard H Martin)

Ok, so we’re in now. As for the room, very comfy. More than expected. Samuel assures me that it is possible to see the lights from here. I smile inwardly and ask Samuel about the buses.

There’s a stop outside apparently. Not far. From here, I can catch the bus into the centre of Tromso. Its an idyllic place.

Right, next morning, after having tried to view the lights in the city the previous night and getting spectacularly lost, I caught the bus.

A VERY interesting experience, due to the fact that my hostel was above the town on a hill with a sloping gradient towards the fjord. At least it isn’t towards a concrete building.

Then left along the water’s edge and into the centre of town. Now we can see the sights of the place. I should note the bus was full and the roads were sheeted with thick ice. The driver had to sideslip the vehicle down the slope. Great fun!

English: A road bridge at Tromsø, Norway

English: A road bridge at Tromsø, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s The Polar museum, with a concrete footprint identifying where Roald Amundsen set off from here on his expedition to the North Pole.

The museum has exhibitions about much of Norway’s arctic heritage, such as whaling and seal-hunting expeditions, including the old ships that were used on these adventures.

We have an arctic cathedral made of wood. It’s small and cosy. Then there’s the library with signs in about sixteen different languages, most of them Inuit, the post office and, most importantly, many Northern Lights tours. Sadly I had to hope they would come over the town.

They didn’t, but there are organisations that will take you overland or by boat to locations where a better viewing opportunity is probable due to clearer weather.

Be prepared to fork out though, the cheapest deals are about £82 for an adult and the most expensive is about £200.

Details can be found on the web, particularly at www.visittromso.no where details of boat, bus, minibus or photo excursions are displayed.

Flights to Tromso via Oslo from London  and on to Trondheim from Tromso plus back to London again cost me about £250.

If you wish to find a hotel in Tromso, there is a reasonably-priced Radisson or, if you want to go low-brow, you should be able to find a hotel from £100 a night.

The Radisson is right in the centre of the town. Trondheim…for a night. After a short flight from Tromso, I find a cab and have the driver take me direct to the hostel, a shabby place right in the centre of the town.

It turns out, however, that a seven-eleven is nearby and the city centre as well is close. Trondheim’s most famous landmark, the cathedral, is on the opposite side of town.

It’s a worthy experience too! With a stained-glass window of purple and reds, a sinister Gothic appearance and a low entrance fee with a cafe and gift shop area, its a must-not-miss.

Nidaros Cathedral

Nidaros Cathedral (Photo credit: kjd)

The cathedral was formed around 1070 and was an important place for Catholic pilgrims in northern Europe until the Reformation, since when it has been the cathedral of the Lutheran Bishops of Trondheim.

And so, after hanging around the central station for awhile-it was bitterly cold-I headed happily for the airport.

I found a nice Norwegian girl to talk to in the gate area and, after a short flight, pitched up in Bergen’s airport terminal lounge. Leather reclinable seats too!

And finally, home…happy times!

Zanzibar

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Ah, this Island must be one of the best places on Earth! You can see sandy, unspoiled beaches where the seaweed workers toil, a bright sky, friendly, smiling locals abound! The reasons why people come are many and varied, but one thing is for sure…they’ll never forget it.

Take Stone Town, on the west coast and also the capital, for example. One may come by sea and be dropped of right in the centre of the capital of the Island.

Stone Town Alleyway

Stone Town Alleyway (Photo credit: fabulousfabs)

Here you’ll  find Forodhani Gardens, an open area that, during the evening time, comes alive with the hustle and bustle of the Night Market. This is one of the most interesting exhibits of Zanzibar.

You can try falafel from the Middle East, spicy potato, a local dish, and chapattis all in the same meal.

Oh, and don’t forget to try some sugar cane juice! Across the road from the gardens lies the old Sultans palace, now the Museum of Zanzibar. You’ll have an enlightening experience here. See it below.

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If you head inland you surely will come to the shopping district that is a labyrinth of small shops all lined up where you can buy clothes locally woven with beautiful African colours that are vibrant in the extreme, and lots of hand-made pots plus other souvenirs generally made from Malachite.

Be sure to ask if something is Ivory, which is illegal. If it is Ivory, don’t buy it. You can help to stop elephant poaching that way. A tour of Stone Town is easy…there are guides all over and will be willing to tell you all about the city and its past…including the Arab Sultans and the slave trade.

Ivory has always been a highly valuable materi...

Ivory has always been a highly valuable material for carving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can also enter the slave chambers and experience them for yourself, although this is not for the faint-hearted.

Now, heading east, you will find out why it is called the Spice Island.

Stone Town’s Spice Market is full of the smells of paradise; mint leaves and vanilla spice may be bought here for less than a pound.

Another advantage of Zanzibar: cheap, almost free living.

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Dalla Dalla‘s! These jaunty vehicles are the best way to travel around the island. With their lack of suspension, wooden crate-like structures for cabins that always find room for more people…

even if it means crouching down, not strapped down, in the seating area with fifty other people, a dead shark that stinks on top, tarpaulin mats over the side and sweaty bodies…you will find them charming.

Don’t forget that the drivers know the word “accelerator” from 150-yards away but don’t know “brake” even if you’re in the front cab and screaming it at them.

And that the roads are filled with potholes.I remind you of the lack of suspension in these vehicles. Does this sound like fun? If you wish to find the beaches of the Island, the east and north coasts are the best for this.

Azure skies, beaches almost bleached white by the sun, crystal clear water and bars where juices and ales may be bought for sixty-pence await you here.

You can spend many a day and night carefree, swimming at 6:00 am when the water is still warmer than the air.

These beaches, when full-moon parties are in swing, come alive with tourists and locals, vibrant with the lifeblood of their island…happiness and joy.

These parties usually include liberal amounts of alcohol, despite the island being 95% Muslim.

One should not travel alone to these parties, safety in numbers always. Remember, when travelling by taxi, to negotiate the fare before setting out.

The main tourist extra-curricular activities in Zanzibar include the must-do Dolphin Tour where you will head out beyond the Island’s coral reef about a mile or so…and do the unthinkable…swim with Dolphins in the open Indian Ocean!

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Dolphins (Photo credit: ryn413)

The Spice Tour is an exhibition of Jozani forest; an area in the middle of the Island, equidistant between Stone Town in the west and the east coast.

This is where the mangrove swamp is located and you may hire a guide here for a very low price.This area is also famous for its endangered but very cute Red Colobus Monkeys.

The Dalla Dalla and taxi drivers always use those otherwise-underused brakes here. There are many other tours that can be undertaken, it’s magnificent!

Red Colobus Monkey

Red Colobus Monkey (Photo credit: Adrian Maidment)

As for travelling to the island, Emirates Airlines have scheduled services from London to Nairobi or Dar Es Salaam, on the Tanzanian mainland, via Dubai where a very refreshing air-cooled terminal awaits. From either of these two cities, you may fly or, in the latter’s case, sail to Stone Town.

My personal trip set me back about £760. A more expensive option would be to fly direct to Nairobi and then on…you can expect to pay around 850 UK pounds in that scenario.

Flying from London is about a six-hour journey to Dubai, another four and a half to Nairobi and an hour and forty minutes to Zanzibar.

If you choose the Dar Es Salaam route then you should expect to pay about fifty pounds for the flight or ferry to the island.

Now thats about all but just remember to stay safe and allow the Spice Island to enchant you!