Category Archives: World Cities

A year of Serendipity

Serendib. Thats what the merchants called the Island off of southern India, known for its languid, warm shores and tropical beaches, full of the most juicy pineapples, and waters more clear than the word itself.

We derived the word serendipity from it, which means “peacefulness by happy chance”. Those are the exact adjectives that should be used for this lush and balmy slice of land.

English: A Dhow in the Indian Ocean. Crew memb...

English: A Dhow in the Indian Ocean. Crew members pull the ropes to adjust sails. The background shows the Zanzibar Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was only there for a year while my dad worked for Air Lanka as a pilot. The lifestyle wasn’t exactly brutal. We went to the beach on weekends, had ice creams in the park and loved life.

Most of my  memories are faded because I was only three years old at the time. However, memories like an elephant pulling a coconut out a tree and the vivid turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean will lie in my conscience for life.

It’s the little details that are important, like the crunching sound made by the aforementioned elephant, the dazzling peacock-dresses the women would wear and the bleached white, sandy beaches.

Oh Sri Lanka my country

Oh Sri Lanka my country (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They lie dormant for the most part. But they give me joy when I think about them. The joy is the simple knowledge that these memories form a part of my life and they’ll never die.

Swimming in the pool of the Airport Gardens Hotel and sitting by  the side, consuming the most delicious fruits and juices known to man is paradise. The crab silhouette at the bottom meant that I wouldn’t get in. It spooked me.

What about feeding the baby elephants at the orphanage? They were so cute, wrapping their trunks around the bottles of milk, making their sweet noises:) Anyway…

The time we had there was fruitful and we could go wherever we wanted to, with our personal driver, Lawrence. The cars on the road were mostly relics, kept in shape by “bashers”, or mechanics.

Cheap living is the norm here and we loved it. Seeing Kandy is an experience i’ll never forget. When you’re there, you’ll hear the birds of the jungle wake you at five in the morning.

Although this won’t bother you. It’s a spiritual experience. Fruitbats inhabit this enchanted land as well and, if you’re lucky, you may see one or two swoop over the rooftops in the evening time.

Snakes? Yeah. You have to watch out for them. There are venomous species on the island so never go walking through the bush with just sandals on. You should go in boots.

Adam’s Peak is a sight not to be forgotten as well. It is a holy site to Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Thats pretty good going. Many visitors come every year to visit this sacred peak, an imprint in the land left by Buddha.

Thats the legend of it anyway. The summit is over 7,000 feet above sea level, making it Sri Lanka‘s highest point. My father mentioned that it posed some danger to aircraft, but it was easily avoidable. Presumably, it still is.

English: Sri Pada mountain (Adam's Peak) on th...

English: Sri Pada mountain (Adam’s Peak) on the left, view from village of Maskeliya, Sri Lanka Français : Pic d’Adam à gauche vu du village de Maskeliya, Sri Lanka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want some time on the beach, how about Mount Lavinia? The annual beach party is a must and you should do this! There are girl galore at these parties and they go till two and three o’clock in the morning.

For exact info, view this page. http://www.ticketslk.com/events/view/we_did_it_amazing_colombo_city_romp_2013. This fortunately does not occur in the monsoon season.

The high season is between december and march. This is when the beaches and hill country are driest. However, prices peak plus the east and north of the country, along with the ancient cities, will remain wet.

April, september and november bring the shoulder, a time that offers the best weather nationwide. New year’s celebrations mean that the public transport will be a filled to capacity. This is a good time to wander without bookings.

In the low season, the weather in the north and east is at its best, while the Yala monsoon brings wet weather to the south and west coasts. Prices are at a nationwide low. So, if you want to head north, do so now.

Wandering the hill country will provide you with a chance to see how a subsistence life, orientated around the land and its resources feels. I lived this experience later in life on Zanzibar island.

This territory is, however, very famous for one commodity, that of its big brother to the north. Tea. Masses of it. Though, I suspect their exports are larger than the domestic market.

The island has a population of just over twenty million people. therefore the prospects for overseas trade would be larger than their internal ones.

This is not like India. The billion-plus population of that state means there is little, if any, need for trade abroad with regards to this plant.

English: Fresh, still undried tea leaves of di...

English: Fresh, still undried tea leaves of different qualities in a hand. Plucked from the same plants, but the smaller the higher the price per gram. Taken at the Happy Valley Tea Estate at Darjeeling, India. Deutsch: Frische noch ungetrocknete Teeblätter verschiedener Qulitätsklassen auf einer Hand. Geerntet von den selben Pflanzen, aber je kleiner das Blatt, desto hlöher der Preis pro Gramm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In all, this island has just that. All of it. Its a place resonant of the name given by those arab traders all those centuries and millenia ago. Its beaches will welcome you whenever you need them.

Spend a week, spend a lifetime. You’ll still find a nook, a cranny, a corner that will suddenly explode with life and vibrancy, fulfilment and life. If you want to move here, you have my complete and utter understanding.

The cheap living will mean that, provided you have a decent job like my dad, you’ll have no more worry in the world than where your next glass of fresh pineapple juice is coming from. They will have been picked that morning:)

You’ll be able to see all the joy of life in every area of it. Whether that is social, leisure, work or anything else, this is your island.

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Easter Road to the Royal Mile

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I was sick of it. I’d been having conversations with a friend for over four months now about how we both wished to go on a trip within the UK.

However one pitfall after another beset us from actually doing it. So, one day when he called me, I booked the flight and the hotel after he said he’d call me back.

He did…and was stunned to realise what I had done. But, realistically, it was the only way we would’ve ever done it. So we headed out to Bristol airport on the day and boarded the plane for his first flight.

Getting through security was a bit of a hassle, but we got there o.k. His condition prevents him for standing for long periods. I lost sight of him once.

He loved every moment of it. Soaring above the clouds captured his imagination. It wasn’t long before we broke through them after take-off.  He said he was glad he had done it before he died.

When we broke out of the clouds for the first time, it was magical. It felt like we were soaring on silk. It’s a feeling that will never leave me. Not only that, but we were sat next to two lovely flight attendants on the way back.

Our destination was the fair city of Edinburgh, home to The Royal Mile and Easter Road. I’m sure you would never have guessed that in a million years. Anyway,  we were going now.

We didn’t regret it. Getting to see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the smells…thats what travel is all about. It is an adventure unto itself and one not to be crossed unless you are ready for it.

The flights were of a decent price, one hundred and twenty pounds return, with easyJet from Bristol. Good, our next point of call. The hotel.

Three stars. A cosy little place, the Dunstane Lodge. We had the usual, a T.V. and two single beds with breakfast. Also, we had a better-than-standard ride into town with the airport bus.

The vehicle was impeccably clean, the driver polite and friendly, no delays on the service and a seamless journey into the town centre.

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Now for the excitement. He wanted to see the three stadiums in the vicinity, Tyneside, Murrayfield and Easter Road.

It turned out to be a fair old walk, not to visit them from the hotel, but from each one to the other. But the best part, by far and away, was The Royal Mile. The one and only.

Striding down these streets where Scottish shortbread is in abundance brings all the clichés, unexpected experiences and sheer beauty together. These buildings include monuments, Edinburgh Castle, and many more.

We hopped from bus to bus to see the various sights and walked up various alleyways and byways to see all three of the sports stadiums in the vicinity.

This was o.k. I let him do this because it was his first holiday at the age of twenty five. A sad but true story. He hasn’t ever left the U.K. Nor had he flown before.

So there we were in the middle of February at our little lodging on West Coates Street, near to Haymarket Station.

The walk to the town centre was neither strenuous nor unpleasant and I was able to stop and get a hot chocolate from a tasty street stall selling beverages and sweet snacks.

There was a bit of construction work, though, and he found it a little hard on his ears. He has sound sensitivity. As we got into the centre, which we had seen on the way in, we were reminded of the aura of the place.

The sun shone and we began to walk up toward the Castle, from which we oversaw the entire surrounding area and drank it in quite happily.

The Glens outside the city were visible and they stretched, green in some parts, barren in others, to the horizon. As for the castle itself?

It houses the Scottish National War Museum, the Honours of Scotland and the Scottish War Memorial along with other goodies. A plethora of exhibitions, museums and gun batteries, to name a few, are on site.

Most of the castle’s were rebuilt after the Lang Siege of 1573 and were reconstructed thereafter. Human habitation of the area goes back to ninth century b.c.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Edinburgh held some of the most ancient history in the British Isles. Whether that be central to Celtic lore or world history, you’ll find it in Scotland.

It is the home of the television, the telephone and countless other items. As far as cuisine is concerned, it is top-notch. We dined in a Vietnamese restaurant where I had the most wonderful vegetable curry.

We headed for Edinburgh’s international airport, quite a clean and tidy one by anyone’s standards. A slight problem at security. I had bought a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and was denied access through to the gate.

Not a problem, I scoffed it. As for the journey home,  it was a late night flight, during which we met the aforementioned flight attendants and reflected on a lovely trip. My parents picked us up at the Bristol end.

The special part about the place is its entire character. It is like no other, for it has the setting, the character, the history, the culture and just about everything else.

You may lose yourself for a lifetime where the pipes play and the tartan wave flourishes amidst Georgian architecture and the smells of bakeries combine with the sights of Scotland’s capital.

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It has a spellbinding nature and will intoxicate you with its charisma. You can see the Edinburgh Festival here, where murder is in the air and African voice choirs may ease your ears.

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What about the Royal Military Tattoo that takes place every year within the walls of the castle and is a magnificent spectale to behold, with pipes and drums from a host of nations, not least, of course, Scotland.

A spectre of fireworks and parade-ground marches, it really does much to impress. So does this entire city…

Canada Customs Confusion

English: customs control at London Stansted Ai...

English: customs control at London Stansted Airport Deutsch: Zollkontrolle am Flughafen Lonond-Stansted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Get through customs. Then the mini-bus. Then the hotel. Easy. Or so I thought. But, after a hiccup that I had in Vancouver having flown from London’s Gatwick airport, I was asked to see the duty customs officer for a temporary visa.

Border control in the United States (U.S. Cust...

Border control in the United States (U.S. Customs and Border Protection – United States Department of Homeland Security) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It took about five minutes just to answer all the questions of the agent at the desk. Subsequently, I had to see a duty officer and it was from her that I obtained a six months residency visa. Despite having a British passport, I am a Canadian citizen.

This led me to assume that, when I went through that channel, they would have a record of me. I was wrong. However, they quite reassuringly cross-checked me to make sure I was who I said I was. Anyway, he was very friendly and not at all threatening.

She told me all the compliant details and I was sent off happy with a bit of paperwork, but it wasn’t terrible. So, anyway, I headed for the nearest hotel, a Stay n’ Save.

After having hopped on the shuttle bus and being driven there, I was casually informed that it would be an extra fifty dollars for him to book me a room for the night without a credit card. He very kindly let me off this charge.:)

Well, the next day I caught the ferry to Vancouver Island via a Pacific Coach Lines service to Tsawwassen and then I sailed over to Swartz Bay and found my ride, a family friend of mine. A pretty smooth ride over all.

Belt Buckles Beep

English: An example of Airport security.

English: An example of Airport security. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Security at airports in a post 9/11 world is paramount. That is why it baffled me that, in August of 2004, as I returned with my mother and sister from a holiday in Sweden, that the airport security in Stockholm would simply run a scanner over my belt buckle, obscured by a sweater, and say “go on”.

 

Well, apparently they do just that. It made me feel terrific that they were so lax about it. I could have had anything under there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gun, a bomb, a 4th century Chinese sword:)? Well, at least in a few hours I would be home. And indeed I was. But that incident really opened my eyes.

 

The questionable behaviour of the security individuals is probably limited to only a few of them, but, if this ever happens to anyone who reads this in the future, do what I didn’t. Complain about it. Everyone’s life is being risked because of one person not being vigilant.

 

How safe can we really be if they do not even bother to lift my sweater? I began to wonder also about how thoroughly the bags were scanned and who was able to fly, plus a whole host of other security variables that are of paramount importance.

 

Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi Inter...

Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand. This security post is located for entering the airport which means all people (visitors and passengers) have to pass such a control. Another control will be for boarding luggage before entering the secured area (passengers only). View towards the street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I boarded without further incident and settled in for a shortish hour and forty-five minute flight back to Stansted, from where we would pick up our car and begin the lengthy journey back to Gloucestershire. We got there and my big Labrador greeted me with happy kisses.

 

 

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…

All the King’s Men

Stockholm, Sweden 073 - Early morning - Royal ...

Stockholm, Sweden 073 – Early morning – Royal Guard at the Stockholm Palace (Photo credit: Claudio.Ar)

Late August in Stockholm. How about that? How about seeing the Palace Guards? If you go to the city, then you have the chance to experience that privilege. Although, you’d best be warned. DO NOT touch anything beyond the guard rail. If you do, it will be on pain of death.

That was what a young man tried to do during the ensemble before the changing of the guards the day we were there. The guards, a magnificent sight in their gold pickelhaube helmets with screaming sky blue trousers, will make their intentions very clear and bark at anyone who trespasses.

Stockholm, Sweden 068 - Royal Guard at the Sto...

Stockholm, Sweden 068 – Royal Guard at the Stockholm Palace (Photo credit: Claudio.Ar)

This particular individual reached across the flimsy rail and had the nerve to touch a cannon that lined the main path to the palace entrance. I did not see this.

What I did see, however, was the guard who briskly marched toward the scene of the incident and yelled “UT!”, waving his hand in the air and brandishing a heavy-duty rifle! Lesson well-learned, not that I needed to.

Afterwards, the changing of the guard happened and we were subject to a wonderful display. The Marines that were taking over from them put on a fantastic march.

Marvellous people with kind and helpful hearts inhabit the city that will leave its charm lingering in your memory forever.

What more could be said about this dreamy fairytale land other than we had a lovely, joyous time in the Swedish capital and it was the experience of a lifetime!

Don’t Buy Ivory

Stone Town streets

Stone Town streets (Photo credit: Berlotti)

Don’t buy ivory. Thats what we were told. None. Therefore, when I walked down the row of shop in Stone Town and entered one selling little souvenirs that were hopefully only made of Malachite. This hope, I was to find out, was ill founded. My young eyes wandered over the rows of items that included little hippos that you could hold in the palm of your hand and tiny cooking pots, hehe.

One could smell the malachite in these places, a wonderful sense. You could also duck into these buildings, made of cool stone, as the name of the city suggests, to escape the heat. Not that that was intolerable. In fact, it was no worse than you might find in the Mediterranean. They had the most lovely vibrant colours in their products as well. Its as though someone had splattered fifty different shades all over the walls and just let it dry.

Hanging in Stone Town

Hanging in Stone Town (Photo credit: Camera, Lights)

I wanted to buy one to bring home to my mother. I came back off that trip to Zanzibar with an entire carry-on bag just full of souvenirs. Everything from silk to kitchen utensils. I casually strode over, with the floor creaking below me, and, with my long reach, plucked one of the pots off the top shelf.

We asked all the time about the materials used to make them. “How much?” I asked the owner, showing him my prospective merchandise.

“18,000 shillings”. I nearly died! That was almost seven pounds. I was going to ask him what the base material was but that high price made me know inside. “Ivory?”, I again queried him. “Yes” was the answer. I promptly put the item back on the shelf.

A bedrock rule of the charity I was with, teaching English in a place called Jambiani on the east coast, was “Do not buy Ivory!”

The charity was African Impact.