Martin is an animated person, with warm and intelligent eyes the color of dark chocolate, and skin to match. During out pre-departure tour meeting at the hostel, he goes through the usual tour-guide stuff, - safety issues, a basic itinerary for the next few days and what we can expect from the tour overall. I have travelled with Geckos Adventures previously, so I half listen and watch Martin as he speaks. He gives us a brief run down of his history, and I think to myself that I’ve found a new friend for life.
Northern exposure in Sweden
Once you start ticking off the things to do on your bucket list, it’s hard to stop, so I signed up with a small group headed for the Icehotel in January to see the northern lights.
I have to say, it was an expensive trip – I’ve never paid so much for a long weekend! – but it was worth it. Kiruna was the most northerly airport I’d ever flown to and my first trip to the Arctic Circle, so I wasn’t surprised when the temperature dropped to -35ºC.
After a coach ride by the light of the other-worldly, pink ‘Alpenglow’ you only find in the far north or at altitude, we arrived at the Icehotel. I wanted to avoid the check-in tailback at reception, so I started off by checking out the hotel instead. To call it a hotel is not really fair. It’s more like a village, in which the bit made out of ice is only a small part amongst dozens of wooden chalets and outbuildings. It’s more like Portmeirion, the setting for the cult Sixties spy series The Prisoner - except with everyone wearing snowsuits instead of black and white blazers. Most people know it from the James Bond film Die Another Day, but the scene wasn’t actually shot there. Having said that, you still get the snow and ice and the frozen river – all that’s missing is Halle Berry and the Aston Martin!
“Bonjour. Bienvenue a la maison de Liverpool. Comment allez-vous?
I’m not sure why this makes me freeze. I’m prepared for it, and I even know what it means, but my brain shuts off. I don’t think I was made to learn a different language. I’ve always been a math and science kind of girl.
“Bonjour. Parlez-vous anglais?” It’s my go to response. I’m in Montreal, Canada so I know that French and English are both widely spoken, but I don’t want to seem rude or look like an idiot.
I am sitting in a wood panelled ranger station in Glacier National Park, watching a video on bear safety with two friends from different continents. Ben is a building contractor from Seattle. Josh is an actor from Sydney, and we stare, wide eyed as the video presents in graphic detail all the colourful ways a bear can stalk, maim and kill hikers in the back country of Montana. That’s where we are planning to go. Into the back country, but as the warnings in the video get more and more graphic, I’m beginning to have second thoughts.
A meal with a girl in Piraeus
Our first Piraeus trip takes the tourist route: Metro from Monastiraki – get off at Piraeus, walk out of station – turn right – walk 10 meters – take escalator up over bridge across busy road – walk to ferry terminal – find ferry – get on ferry – leave Piraeus.
Visit number two is different. The Girl has been here before, and wants to see a little more. I am indifferent, but trust her judgement – she knows about fun stuff. And I am a bit lazy organizing when there is someone else willing to organize it (this I do not like this about myself, and something The Girl & I have some discussions about).
Somehow, after all of that, I had made the flight.
Whereas I could have just as easily used that line after successfully going through security at an airport in the United States, I knew that the events of February 1, 2008 made the utterance a bit harder earned.
Reminisce How The Beatles Started
If you plan a unique way to tour Germany and you happen to be a music fanatic, then Hamburg would be one ideal destination you can go to. More than the metropolitan tours and the harbour excursions, one nostalgic activity that you can do in the second largest city of Germany is to tour Reeperbahn in St.Pauli. Why so? The place just so happens to be the district where the iconic Fab Four, The Beatles, started their career which led them to reform the music industry as we know it today.
The shop is like any other souvenir hut – overcrowded with cheap, dusty merchandise. I pick up a postcard. Idyllic shots of white-sand beaches and a boat painted with Rastafarian colors. "Jamaica", I read, "no problem." My friends and I flock to the checkout with our purchases, only dimly aware of the irony they represent. Instead of drinking rum in our new shot glasses or smoking ganja in Bob Marley T-shirts, we are on a church trip in Kingston, a city with a reputation for crime and violence.
Safari adventures in South Africa
I was 5 when I first showed an interest in wildlife, so my parents tell me. I adored watching ants on the steps to our back door, searching for the toad in the leaves blown into the corner of the coal house and watching for grass snakes coiled up in the bottom of the hedges in our orchard. I adored the nature programs on TV, especially Private Lives and Look! I was fascinated with the wildlife of the Serengeti, Aldabra, Sumatra and the Indian jungles. Most of all, I loved the wild animals and landscapes of Africa.
As usual, on this morning, I was woken up by the sound of roosters, hollering their annoyance at the rising of the sun. However, I think I just was adjusting, as I was able to go back to sleep instead of plotting their deaths. I felt pretty rested, considering the tone of our last few days.
We had been on Safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park! Though an unexpected trip, it was an incredible one… truly a rare and amazing opportunity. My whole life I have dreamed of going on Safari – yet this trip was to be dedicated to the farm we had helped to build, so I didn’t allow myself to hope for it. Luckily, our new friends Kyle and Jessie were planning on going, and were gracious enough to envelope us into their plans. I liked them more and more as we got to know them!
We took an old rickety van with a grumpy back bumper that rattled for the eight hour ride to the park. The poverty there was astounding. There were children in tattered clothes, running around in the dirt and laughing. There were women standing in doorways, washing clothing in buckets, and tending to other chores like food and babies. We drove past so many villagers swinging a single garden hoe in endless rows of crops, heads heavy laden with goods, or manning a shack of vegetables, hoping for a sale.