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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.

Swimming With Dolphins In Zanzibar

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian...

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Would you like to swim with dolphins in the Indian Ocean? I can tell you that I certainly enjoyed it when I had the opportunity to do so in July of 2011. It was a truly wondrous feeling! We were taken out about a mile or so beyond the reef and were positioned so that the dolphin pods swam right through our group of small craft.

Its an amazing feeling! Once you’re out there, the boat skipper will say “get ready”. You all sit on one side of the boat. This sounds like a bad idea, and it is but, somehow, the boats manage to stay upright. As the groups appear on the horizon, he’ll yell “go!”. Thats exactly what you do. Into the water then.

What happens next, you’ll never forget. These lovely, intelligent creatures pass right between you and the next man, providing you with the most spiritual experience ever known to man. On their migration route too! I tell you, I came back with the biggest smile on my face. These happy souls show off as though they were in a fun park in the azure of the Indian Ocean.

 

Swimming with dolphins

Swimming with dolphins (Photo credit: Krister462)

 

It was a really special day. It is one that remains in your memory, not because you did something unique, but because you connect with mother nature in a way that is impossible to describe to anyone who hasn’t done it. They have the tamest natures and the happiest smiles on their faces. Smiles all around!

And you can buy a bracelet of a little wooden dolphin off the vendors that are around:)

Foul-up in Turin

EasyJet A319 Tailfins

EasyJet A319 Tailfins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early May. Gorgeous! Especially if you are travelling to the Italian Riviera when you are only seventeen years old. I was headed for San Remo, having just touched down in Turin. That went fairly smoothly. No trouble at customs.

I landed at 12:05 and had to catch a train to San Remo at 14:05 from the main station. Ample time, or so I thought.

I made my way, dutifully, to the airports rail link where I asked the station manager when the next train would come. He informed me that it would be only a few minutes.

It was now about 12:30 and I had to wait for another 30 minutes, I don’t recall exactly how long.

The point is that, when I caught the train, It was 13:00. Time was still sufficient. I got off the train around 13:20 and onto the bus, asking the driver, who had poor English, to drop me off at the main train station.

Torino Stazione Porta Nuova

Torino Stazione Porta Nuova (Photo credit: Michael Tinkler)

He forgot and, when he stopped at his terminus, it was 13:50. I was now alarmed.

After about 5 minutes of him chatting and me gesturing, he passed me some paper. I wrote “Treno 14:05 San Remo”.

Suddenly understanding, he asked any of the passengers, for some reason still loitering, if they could speak English.

Two young schoolgirls came forward and we rushed to the train station.

It was too late. I got there just in time to see my train leaving the platform. Now what? Call my father and ask him what to do.

So I bought a drink from a stall and used the change in a payphone. I called him and we agreed that the best thing for me to do was catch a train to Savona and, from there, to San Remo.

This happened, the Savona train leaving Turin at 16:05. Two hours behind schedule. I eventually caught the San Remo train, being delayed by two more hours. Lesson learned! Leave AT LEAST three hours between the plane landing and the train leaving the station!

Link

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!

Tromso

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!