Travelling in Wenzhou

As the days became longer and the deep freeze of the Canadian winter seemed to be coming to an end, I was ready to start my next adventure. After working a lengthy contract position and saving enough money to move to Australia, it was time to pack my bags and head out. The catch: I was not headed to Australia, I was headed to Asia. You see, I had a plan. I was going to work hard for several months in order to start a considerable savings bucket to settle in Australia for a working holiday contract. However, plans don’t always work out and things change. Priorities change. People change. And so, a decision was made. Instead of running away, I did what any other rational human being does when facing a crisis. I got a new hairdo. Unfortunately for me, aqua really isn’t my colour. With mermaid coloured streaks and a healthy sum of savings, I made the decision to go on a month long vacation instead.

My Asia trip was a lengthy one which included two cities in China, three cities and one island in Thailand, and one city in Cambodia. All of this was to be done in one month and would include 8 airplane rides and one ferry boat ride. To say it was jam packed is a grave understatement. Nonetheless, I was prepared for the journey that lay ahead. Our first stop: Wenzhou, China.

Now, I am going to be real. Being in Wenzhou was a huge culture shock to me. I had come with my friend who spoke the dialect but would soon learn upon arrival that none of her family members and friends spoke English. As a result, I would depend entirely on my friend for the duration of my stay in China. Up until this point, I had travelled to places in which the dominant language was English, I spoke the foreign language, or the locals understood a minimal amount of English to get around. While it was an uncomfortable feeling not being able to understand those around me, it was a valuable experience. As I spent the week in Wenzhou, it made me realize how isolated immigrants must feel coming to a new country in which they do not know the language. I often do not speak in my second language due to my lack of fluency and personal embarrassment of sounding like a “gringa”. However, in not doing so I have become even less fluent and it has limited my ability to communicate with my grandmother as well as other spanish speaking family. The point I am making in all this, is while I felt uncomfortable, it taught me to try a little more harder to speak my second language. I think we could all agree that unintentionally isolating a family member from your conversations is a lot worse than sounding like a “gringa”.

And so, the stage was set for my experience of Wenzhou. Rather than being a typical vacation in which you check off points of interest off your list, it would prove to be a much more cultural experience instead.

Y’all thought I was kidding about the green hair (slowly fading but nonetheless present)
Learning basic phrases

My cultural experience started off by learning a few Wenzhounese phrases. During my time there I made it my mission to at the very least learn how to say the following: hello, thank you, yes and no. You see, Wenzhounese people are incredibly giving and kind hearted. While I knew it would be impossible to learn how to speak a language in a week, I wanted to know simple enough phrases which would express my gratitude and appreciation for everything her family had done. The word for “no” would become incredibly useful as a girl could only eat so much despite what my thick thighs may indicate otherwise.
Waking up at the break of dawn

When I think of cultural values, one thing that does not come to mind is how sleep can also be affected by cultural values. And yet, this was also something I learned during my visit to Wenzhou. During my first morning in Wenzhou, the brisk morning air filled the home and my friend and I were awaken to the sounds of the roosters crowing. This set a chain of events into motion in which the occupants of the household began to emerge from their bedrooms and my friend’s grandparents would descend downstairs to begin the morning’s breakfast. This would become my routine for the next week and one I dare not deviate from. To remain in bed after her grandparents had arisen and made breakfast would not only be seen as disrespectful to the efforts they made in preparing the food, but would also be seen as a sign of laziness. While I thought this was something I would not get used to, my body adapted quickly and I learned to appreciate this way of life. There was something peaceful about waking up early and watching the city slowly awaken outside your window. Before the hustle and bustle of a busy day ahead, it was a moment to just enjoy being present. The important thing at the moment was enjoying some early morning conversation and filling your bellies for the long day ahead.While I am going to be completely honest in that I converted back to my original sleep schedule the minute I came back to Canada, I could understand the appeal in the sleep schedule of the Wenzhounese. In one full sweep it prioritized family and peace, while still putting emphasis on the importance of being productive.
Trying out Wenzhounese food and learning how to use chopsticks

I am ashamed to say but despite living in an incredibly multicultural city, I somehow up to this point had not learned how to use chopsticks. You see, even when I would eat Asian food in my city I would often request a fork or be given one by default (white girl default utensil) and had never up to this point had to learn. When I went to Wenzhou however, this all changed. For starters, the fork was an elusive utensil. Many households often only carried chopsticks and even in restaurants it was often a personal treasure hunt to go on and locate a fork for my convenience. As a result, I had no other choice but to learn how to use chopsticks. Now, I would like to take a moment to say my natural chopstick abilities were not too shabby and while I am by no means great at using them, I managed to use them for their purpose. In doing so, my world was open to all the fantastic food Wenzhou had to offer. Now I’m a picky eater but wherever I was there was always something to eat. And with Wenzhou being a port city, there was always an abundance of seafood to fill my heart with joy. Between abalone with noodles, lobster, shrimp, and various preparations of noodles and mushrooms I was set.

Yong Jia Light Festival

Every year, Wenzhou holds a light festival in its city. The festival is near the scenic areas surrounding the mountains and offers a plethora of light installations of various shapes and sizes. We walked through passageways lit up with multicoloured lights, installations of brightly coloured umbrellas, and brightly coloured ships. It was definitely an interesting spectacle to visit and attested to the ingenuity of the Wenzhounese. While I appreciated the beauty and the dedication involved in creating these works of arts, it felt as though the rugged natural landscape and colourful installations were competing for attention. And for me, nature will always triumph over anything man made. Nonetheless, the installations were quite creative and had it been situated in a more city like environment I would have probably appreciated them just a little bit more.

Checking out the mountain scenery, flower fields on Qidu island, and the tourist areas of Wenzhou

As I mentioned, while the installations at the light festival were beautiful it was the mountainous scenery which stole my heart. Between walking on cable bridges hovering over the mountainous valleys below and hiking up hills in which I seriously contemplated crawling, it was in these moments I felt the most joy. For those who know me, I thrive off being surrounded my nature. Even in metropolitan hubs such as London, I made it a point to walk through parks and canals for a sense of peace amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. This is what the Yandang mountains had offered. Despite a large pocket of congestion at the beginning of the trail due to it being a public holiday, as we went further on the hike and the crowd thinned out it was here I could appreciate the scenery before me and the arduous hike that came with it.

In addition to hikes, we also enjoyed nature by checking out the flower fields on Qidu island which is connected to Wenzhou via bridge. During holidays especially, Qidu island is a popular place for the Wenzhounese as well as people from other neighbouring towns to visit. The island is home to large flower fields adorned with colourful pinwheels spinning in the breeze. The type of flower varies with the season, and during my visit the fields were adorned with delicate yellow flowers. I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of anything that signifies happiness more than delicate yellow flowers and brightly coloured pinwheels.

(Apologies for the quality, please see first picture of this post to see how this field actually contributes to your selfie game)

Lastly, after one of our lunches with my friend’s neighbours it was time to check out a small tourist area in Wenzhou. The area was specifically created for tourists in mind and has intricately painted murals on the sides of homes and surrounding walls of the neighborhood. From paintings of intricate trees on the sides of houses, murals of men fishing on the river, and houses being painted to look like a barn it was a kind of surreal experience. To top it off, when we arrived the neighborhood was desolate. It was a weekday and the middle of the day and with everyone at work a strange silence took over the place. The best way I could describe it was it felt, was it felt like how one’s feel after a fresh snowfall has fallen on a town. Despite the surreal feeling of having felt like we had been transported to another town entirely, this strange kind of peace was what we needed on that warm spring day after running around from one family dinner to the next. After taking our selfies amidst the murals, we retreated indoors to a coffee shop owned by relatives of my friend and remained there until dinner later that day.

Final Thoughts

After a week of waking up with the roosters, taking selfies in the flower fields of Qidu island, hiking up mountains, drinking more tea than I thought humanly possible, learning basic Wenzhounese phrases and how to use chopsticks, visiting malls and shops, and checking out the Yong Jia light festival my journey in China came to an end. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post it was a much more cultural experience above everything else. I believe this city has a lot of potential and for those who can speak the language it is one I would recommend to visit. The city is growing and with it you can see the city changing to attract a tourist population such as menus incorporating English translations. However, despite these changes it is not yet tourist friendly in regards to this aspect as many places continue to only have signage in traditional Chinese and despite the English menus many servers often do not understand English. It is a gradual change and I believe in a few years time, the city will succeed in becoming a tourist destination as changes are implemented to help facilitate communication between visitors and people. Regardless of my struggles with the language barrier, my experience is one I will not forget. I cannot express my gratitude enough to my friend’s friends and family and appreciation for everything they did for me during my time there. It truly was a humbling experience.

Travelling through Greece: Part 5

Athens

And just like all the other journeys that came before, I was drawing a close to my time in Greece. The final stop on the adventure: Athens. After the striking sunsets, bumpy quad rides, and wild water sports it was time to visit the place where democracy was born. The start of my journey had been a rough one, full of obstacles and trials. However, by sticking it out I had met fantastic tour mates along the way and made memories that would last a lifetime. These memories would include making the most of a boat shipwrecked at sea, making up drinking games out of playing cards featuring individuals performing acts not suitable for the eyes of children, dancing to a man playing a cajon, watching the sunrises and sunsets, and sleeping on the deck to fall asleep under the stars. It was these moments of sheer beauty, joy and peace which validated that I had made the right choice in taking this trip for myself.

Although initially I had plans for my day in Athens to be jam packed full of adventure, the pace was slowed down considerably due to falling ill the day before. The sights I did manage to see were the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch and the Acropolis. The temple is an outdoor sanctuary dedicated to the supreme ruler of the gods, Zeus. He is the god of the sky, as well as thunder and lightning. According to Greek mythology, Zeus’ father Kronos feared a prophecy that he would be overthrown by one of his children, and swallowed them whole to prevent this. The youngest child Zeus, however, was saved from this fate as his mother Rhea substituted Zeus for a rock wrapped in swaddling clothes and fed it Kronos. Zeus was then sent away into hiding to the island of Crete where he was reared and would grow up eventually to fulfill the prophecy and save his brothers and sisters. After drawing lots against his siblings, he would go on to become the ruler of the gods. Upon arriving at the temple, I felt joy in being amidst a place which stood as a representation of the extraordinary mythology of the Greeks I had learned about during my first year in university. The structure is made from limestone and pentelic marble, and over the centuries construction has followed a pattern of being halted and continued. Sadly, after completion it stood tall for only a few centuries before being damaged by war. After admiring the temple, my tourmate and I walked around the grounds to see the roman baths and lastly admired Hadrian’s Arch on our way out of the grounds.

After visiting the Temple of  the Olympian Zeus, it was time to move on to what Athens is known for: The Acropolis. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel which sits atop a hill in the city. In it resides several important buildings, including the Parthenon. Before you embark on this adventure to the Acropolis, please note that the Acropolis by being on top of a hill requires some level of physical fitness. As a result, make sure to wear some comfortable sensible shoes, bring sunblock as the complex offers little shade, and food and snacks to stay hydrated and satisfied as places for snacks are far and few between. With that being said, the ancient citadel was beautiful. Although some of the beauty was squandered with the construction going on to restore the monuments, it is a place one must definitely visit during their time in Athens. I felt honoured to be in such a place of sheer beauty and rich history. During our walk around the citadel we saw the Parthenon dedicated to the goddess Athena and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was used as a venue for music concerts by the ancient Greeks. If I had come prepared, I most likely would have spent the rest of the day there. However, with little preparation and my illness worsening,  I had to halt my adventures for a moment to refuel on food and water. My illness had beat me and so it was time to rest.

After getting back on to our hop on, hop off tour bus, I took the moment to rest and see some of the other sights of Greece from the comfort of a vehicle such as the Panathenaic Stadium and Parliament. Being exhausted from the long ferry ride the day before, I eventually dozed off in the comfort of the tour bus until we arrived at a destination to refuel our energy at. After some food and beverages in our system, we headed back to our hostel where I spend part of the afternoon napping and packing up my suitcase for the trip back home the next day. My illness had drained me and I needed to recover. After having some time to myself, the day was finished off watching the sunset sitting atop a hill in Athens. It was the perfect ending to my journey, and as locals and tourists all sat atop the hill, I felt whole. In this moment, we were all bound together by the same thing and all problems in the world ceased to exist for a moment.

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The Next Morning

The next morning, I was headed back to my home country. As I headed towards the airport, a friendly faced Greek shop owner whom I had asked directions from invited me to sit down for a moment outside for a cup of coffee. Despite being frantic to catch my flight, I agreed to sit down for a moment for some conversation. We spoke briefly about the beauty of Greece and the values of the culture which I admired. While it may have been an insignificant act to him, it remains ingrained in my mind and reminds me to take life one step at a time and treat everyone with kindness. During this trip, I learned so much about myself and it allowed me to reevaluate the way I saw life. I was slowly becoming embittered by the curveballs life threw at me, and this trip allowed me to accept the things I had no control over and change those that I did. Some of you reading this may feel as though what I am saying cannot apply to your situation because the obstacles you are facing are too grandiose and cannot simply be accepted. I ask you to change your way of thinking, as being consumed by these obstacles will only prevent you from attracting the happiness you deserve. The obstacles I have faced and continue to face are of a great magnitude, and yet I have learned to make my peace with them. This is not to say that every day it will be easy to simply accept the lot you have been given, but rather I simply ask that you try and remember that if today is not a good day, we can only hope tomorrow will be better.  Life is too short to be so angry and we can all learn a little from the Greeks about appreciating life in the moment.

Hope you all have enjoyed reading about my adventures and stay tuned for my Asian wide adventures coming soon. I promise the photos get better from here on out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travelling through Greece: Part 4

The last time we spoke I was talking about my adventures on the island of Ios. Since then, my hometown has been experiencing a bit of a cold front (it feels like -40 degrees celsius with the wind chill kind of cold). In the wake of this cold front, I thought now is a better time than any to reminisce about the warm Greek sun and everything the country has to offer. The next stop on the tour: Santorini.
Santorini

After two party fueled days in Ios, it was time to move on to the next island on our tour, Santorini. Out of all the Greek islands we had visited up to this point, Santorini hands down was my favourite of the Greek islands. The reason I say this, is while each of the other islands are beautiful in their own right, Santorini offers the most in terms of things to do and see. Whereas the story so far has been told day by day up to this point, it is here I deviate from my previous mode of storytelling. Instead, I will offer personal suggestions on what to see and do in Santorini along with commentary on the sights.

1. Rent Out a Quad Bike
Santorini is big, and the best way to experience it’s beauty is by renting a quad bike (ATV). Renting a quad is very affordable and costs roughly a little over 20 euros for an entire day. It should be noted that you will have to fill up your tank on your own which will roughly cost another 15-20 euros depending on how far you are travelling. As a quad bike can accommodate two people, it becomes easily affordable mode of travel. Now equipped with a mode of transportation you can begin checking out the surrounding towns and several beaches that Santorini has to offer. Driving around Santorini alone without visiting any sites is a scenic adventure all on its own.

2. Check out the beaches
Whereas the beaches thus far have been mainly golden sandy beaches, Santorini offers so much more in its array of beaches. It is home to black,white pebble, and red beaches. One beach in particular that is worth visiting, Red Beach. Red Beach despite its small size is something that should not be missed. It is a beauty created by destruction, carved out of volcanic eruptions. Upon arrival, the craggy terracotta and charcoal coloured cliffs along with the iron rich rocks that make up the beach’s shore entrances you. The beautiful red of the cliffs emphasizing the azure coloured waters of the beach. While it is not the typical golden sandy beach one thinks of when thinking of their ideal beach, it is a beauty which stands in its owm category and is worth the trek.

3. Watersports are a must!
Seeing that we are speaking about beaches, a trip to Santorini is not complete without checking out the watersports. The beach of Perivolas offers this, and is continuation of the beaches of Perissa and Agios Georgios (where the black sand beaches are located). Offered here are a range of watersports including jet skiing, tubing, flyboarding, amongst many other activities. Although I only did the tubing it was no joke, and the two of the tourmates can attest to the fact that we had to hold on for dear life. It was a blast.

3. Check out Santo Wines Winery
A trip to Santorini is not complete without visiting the beautiful Santo Wines Winery. Even if you are not into wine, the views from this place are picturesque with a plethora of outdoor seating overlooking the water. It is immaculate and pristine, the white exterior of the establishment practically glistening under the Greek sun. After you have undoubtedly consumed more wine than you should, finish your visit by taking some pictures against the stunning landscape in front of you.

4. Visit the Hot Springs
Now I’m going to be honest in that I myself did not visit the hot springs, however I had every intention of doing so but missed the boat to visit the springs. Now the hot springs aren’t for everyone, as those tourmates who did visit the spring had mixed reviews. For one, the “hot” springs are actually lukewarm and have a high sulphur content. What this means is that the springs smell less than desirable and have the potential to stain your bathing suit and jewelry. Despite these drawbacks, the contrast between the black rugged cliffs against cyan coloured waters makes it worth dealing with its sulfuric odour. Afterall, I am no dermatologistt but I’ve heard sulfur is good for the skin? If I am to return to Santorini, I will definitely attempt to make the trek to the springs.

5. Watch a sunset in Oia or on a boat
Apparently everyone except me knew that Santorini was known for its beautiful sunsets. I will excuse my last minute planning for this lack of knowledge. The most famous spot for sunset watching: the village of Oia. Now I’m going to be honest in that while the sunset was indeed beautiful from Oia, the hordes of tourists all pushing and shoving to get the perfect selfie ruined it for me. If you are looking to see the sunset in Oia, be warned that you must find the perfect sitting spot at least 1-2 hours prior to sunset to secure that elusive view. If you can deal with the hordes of people, I say go for it as it is stunning but for those like myself who prefer something more calm it is here I suggest the option of watching it aboard a boat. Seeing as we were already docked in the middle of the sea (as the port couldn’t accommodate the size of our ship), it was on our boat in which I appreciated the sunset the most. Now, I know what your thinking…girl not everyone came here on some sail boating excursion. Lucky for you guys, there are sunset cruises designed for this purpose. If you require more information on the best sunset spots in Santorini, check out the Girl Vs Globe Blog who has provided some of her favourite sunset spots and the boat company she used on her own quest.

6. Kick Back and Relax
As someone who is determined to become a world traveller, one thing I have learned along the journey is you really need to allow time to relax, regardless of how much you want to see. In failing to do so, your immune system becomes compromised and instead of enjoying your trip you will fall ill resulting in being forced to relax in a much less desirable way. After missing the boat to check out the hot springs in Santorini, me and two other of my tourmates were now faced with the dilemma of what to do instead. While we had to option to drive back and return to the water sports beach, the decision was made to instead kick back, enjoy some food, and relax. I am not one who lives off social media, but after having minimal wifi throughout this trip it was nice to have a moment to be able to connect with those back home. With free wifi and delicious food, we were at peace and could take in the people and surroundings around us.

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Stay tuned for the final leg of my adventures in Athens, coming soon.

Travelling through Greece: Part 3

Ios….Here We Come 

After being stranded the day before in the middle of the sea, this day was already starting off significantly better than the last. For one, our boat was no longer broken and so we carried on our adventures. Despite missing our opportunity to visit Naxos, we were excited for our next destination: Ios. As I mentioned before, this entire trip was planned in the spur of a moment and so going into it I had little knowledge of what each small island was known for. What I would soon find out is besides Ios being known for its beautiful beaches is also quite a popular party hub. What this meant for the next two days, I would soon find out.

When we arrived to Ios, we headed straight to a “secluded bay”, where a private BBQ party was arranged for us with music and free shots of Ouzo. After staying for a short period of time,  I  went to a store to pick up some souvenirs and then headed back to the boat to get some rest. As my blog name suggests, while I do love travel there is nothing I love more than getting enough sleep. Top that with an ambivert nature, I was exhausted and needed time to recharge my batteries if there was any hope of going out that night to check out the nightlife. And so, I arrived back to the boat, managed to get a nap in, and took my sweet time showering and getting ready for the night ahead. With the boat strangely quiet, it was the peace I needed after the crazy adventures of the last few days.

When everyone began to trickle back in from the beach party, I was now well rested and ready to enjoy the nightlife that Ios had to offer. However, there was one stop that had to be made first: a stop for dinner. For those reading this, one of my favourite things about Greece was the food. Not only is it absolutely delicious but it is super cheap and affordable, and after being in Greece for about ten days, I didn’t even come close to maxing out my budget for this trip. After stuffing my face with a very generous portion of food it was time for the festivities to begin.

The first stop on our bar/club/ crawl was the Fun Pub Sports Bar & Restaurant.  This spot was the perfect place to ease you into the night ahead. The bar hosts a giant jenga set as well as pool tables for the public to play. Despite not getting the chance to play jenga (which for those who know me will know this is a goddamn tragedy), it was a great way to ease into the mayhem as despite this place being quite packed it maintains a kind of pub feel to it. After spending a short time in the fun pub, it was time to step into the real nightlife of Ios.

Ios is great in that we did not have to pay for drinks or cover in many of the places we visited. Due to the multitude of clubs that line the streets, clubs often offer free entry and a free drink in order to bring in people and fill up the clubs. The same club that may have been full an hour ago can quickly become empty due to this kind of competition from other establishments and so for those who enjoy the party lifestyle, it is definitely the island for you. After excessive bar/club hopping, one of the South Africans on our tour suggested a once in a lifetime experience: Slammer Bar. Now while you can’t expect free drinks here, it is an interesting experience to say the least. For a few Euros, you can order a Slammer shot. Now what is a Slammer Shot you ask? For the brave ones out there, a helmet is placed on your head, you take a shot, and then are hit by a miscellaneous object by one of the bartenders. The logic behind it, is that it is supposed the blow to your head (with the safety of a helmet of course), is meant to intensify the buzz from the alcohol. While I cannot validate whether it made me feel any more buzzed or not, it was harmless fun nonetheless. After dancing a bit in the Slammer Bar, it was time to move on. After visiting a few other clubs/bars we landed at the Circus Bar. 

Out of all the places I visited during the crawl, it was this place I enjoyed most. In contrast to the other places we visited that night, Circus Bar was more my scene. Besides having incredibly affordable drinks (no freebies, sorry!), the bar won me over with its live music, tavern like atmosphere, and daily fireshows. Although the majority of the live music was covers of popular songs, it was still refreshing to be amongst this crowd enjoying the music. It was here I spent the rest of the night with one other tourmate, enjoying the tunes being played on guitars and a Cajon (box drum). Not only was the live music fantastic, but top that with the fireshow and great bartenders, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Photo courtesy of Circus Bar Ios Facebook Page 


Next Day: Mylopotas Beach

The next morning, the survivors from the night before were herded onto a public bus to one of the most popular beaches in Greece: Mylopotas Beach.  The beach lived up to the hype, as its long expanse of beach offered something for everyone. For youths looking for a lively beach vibe, there are many restaurants and bars to be visited along this long strip of beach. For families, there are large areas of beach away from the commotion of the party scene. After being out all night, the visit to Mylopotas beach was a much needed break. Seeing our tired eyes and the hungover faces of many, our guides took us to a slightly more secluded area of the beach, and here we were able to enjoy the crystal clear waters and radiating warmth of the sun on our skin all to ourselves. To make things even better, that day a Greek style BBQ was arranged while we relaxed on the beach along with an assortment of alcohol for purchase.  After spending the day of the beach swimming in the water and lounging on chairs soaking in the sun, it was time to head back to prepare for the another night on the town.

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I will not delve into details about the second night on the town due to it being very similar to the first night, however considering I witnessed the sun rising as we finished partying was evident of the fun that was had. With that being said, I want to express that Ios is an island that offers a little something for everybody. For someone looking to spend a few days lounging at beautiful beaches, this is the place for you. And for those looking for a party scene, the plethora of options available will not leave you disappointed. I for one enjoyed the island but was excited for the final destination of our tour : Santorini.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotland Adventures: Part One

The last time I left you guys, you were throwing caution to the wind and boarding the next flight out to London.  For those who did, I hope you had a safe flight and enjoyed London as much as I do. In the event that you have not taken the leap (which I acknowledge might actually be the majority), good news! For the price of flying to London, you can now also add Edinburgh, Scotland to your itinerary. Two for the price of one! I mean technically, you will still have to purchase a bus ticket to Edinburgh from London, but this is minor detail.

Okay so let’s get down to business. You’ve made it to London and after seeing the great city and all it has to offer you’ve been told that Edinburgh, Scotland is only one bus ride away.  However, there is a catch. This bus ride to Scotland is ten hours long! After a brief moment of hesitation, you decide to put on your big kid pants and get ready to brave the ten hour bus ride. As repayment for your bravery, you will not only get to visit Edinburgh but are gifted with a breathtakingly beautiful scenic journey to your destination. This journey is full of rolling hills and valleys filled with sheep and livestock, as well as rugged coastlines. For the strong willed who can overcome their sleep deprivation, this scenic bus ride is a trip in itself.

The Destination

You have now conquered the grueling ten hour bus ride. As you step off the bus in Edinburgh,  the first thing you will hear is the sounds of bagpipes. If it is 8 o’ clock in the morning, your sleep deprived self might even tear up a little at the sound of the bagpipes playing.  The music will reach your very core and stir up emotions you did not know you had. After experiencing this emotional roller coaster, the next thing you will notice is the weather. During my visit in June 2014,  the weather went from rainy  and dreary to shorts weather and back multiple times during the day. So do your best to be prepared and layer up, and most importantly….Bring an umbrella!

Now after making peace with the weather and taking a terribly bad photo of a bagpiper(as seen above) and having someone ruin said photo, it is time to visit Edinburgh castle. For those who missed out on bagpipes in the street, you will most likely find a parade of bagpipes upon visiting the castle. Not only did I witness a chorus of bagpipe players during my visit, but I was present for an event referred to as “The One’O Clock Gun.”  This event which originally was a time signal in its past for ships, is now simply a ceremonious event for tourists which involves the firing of a cannon around 1pm. Besides this ceremonious event,the castle is a beauty in itself. Take a moment to walk through its rooms and towers and learn about the prisoners of war that were held in the castle, as well as Scotland’s military history at the National War Museum within the castle walls. When you have learned about Edinburgh’s history, the views from the castle was astounding and perfect for photo opportunities. If you are lucky, one of the bagpipers might photobomb your photo! Say Cheese!

Photo with photobombing bagpiper and classmates

Edinburgh Castle

You have now conquered Edinburgh Castle and learned about its intriguing history. Now, for all those reading this who have children or want to relinquish their adult status for a day, this next one is for you! A visit to Edinburgh, would not be complete with a visit to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. This building has six floors of hands- on fun complete with illusions such as fun house mirrors, heat cameras, vortex tunnels, and much, much, more.  During my time there, a few and my classmates and I had fun with optical illusion images, heat cameras, vortex tunnels, and rooms which made us feel like pop sensations with glittering lights. When you are done embracing your inner child, continue the fun during the Camera Obscura show where you will learn about Edinburgh while viewing live moving images of Edinburgh on a viewing table and manipulating the people in these images. After the show, continue on to the rooftop for more scenic views of the city below.

By this point, you have now conquered two attractions in Edinburgh, and this is only the start of your visit.  If you are feeling a little exhausted by this point, consider doing a little souvenir shopping the rest of the day by walking down The Royal Mile. Along these streets, you will find stores selling everything from shot glasses, postcards, and keychains to cashmere scarves and tartan skirts. After stocking up on souvenirs and cashmere scarves, indulge in some chocolates and fudge and refuel for your next adventure tomorrow.

 

To be continued…

 

Travels in London: Part Three

Hey everybody,

If you’ve made it this far, you have now read about London’s great galleries, museums and theatres. However, my discussion on London would not be complete without recommending you some of its famous landmarks and beautiful green spaces. This list is by no means a full comprehensive list of all the things to visit, but rather some of my favourites. Without further ado, let us begin.

Buckingham Palace
If you are going to visit London then it only seems right that you visit the residency and administrative headquarters of the monarch. It is not only a residency, but stands as a representation of the British royalty and its power in England. It is a beautiful structure and situated in front of it adding to its beauty is the beautiful Victoria Memorial, dedicated to the late Queen Victoria. This memorial is absolutely stunning with its marble structure and gilded bronze. It is the perfect place to take stunning photos and witness people from all the corners of the world congregating together to visit the palace. If you are visiting Buckingham Palace, be sure to find out when the Changing of the Guard takes place as it is a sight worth seeing complete with marching and music.  Although I did not see this during my visit three years ago, I was able to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tower of London which was equally mesmerizing.

Buckingham Palace and Victoria Memorial

Hyde Park and St. James Park

Now after visiting Buckingham Palace, make your way north for Hyde Park or southwest for St. James Park. These two parks are full of lush greenery and friendly wildlife. If you are looking for a peaceful afternoon, these parks will provide you with a sense of calm and peace as you walk along the lake. If you decide on Hyde Park, consider renting a bike from the Barclay’s bike rental stands in Hyde Park to explore the large park.  For those looking for more recreational activities, during the warm weather rowing and pedal boats are available for rental to glide across the Serpentine lake. If you are short on time, I would recommend visiting St. James Park instead which offers the same lush greenery but is not as large as Hyde Park.  In addition, St.James Park is perfect for photo taking opportunities as the London Eye is visible in certain areas of the park.  Whichever park you choose, you will not be disappointed. If you have time to visit both, then go out there and enjoy. If you are pressed on time, St.James Park will lead you to your next destination: The London Eye and Big Ben.


St.James Park

The London Eye and Big Ben

I have lumped these two together due to the fact that they are both in very close proximity to one another. Now I’m going to be honest in that during my entire time I was in London and even during my most recent visit, I have only seen the London Eye and have never actually gone on it.  If you are wondering why I have not stepped foot into one the little pods that make up the London Eye, my answer is simple: the line is too bloody long. Thus, for those wanting to take a ride, my advice to you is to buy tickets in advance and go early.  I cannot comment on the views from the London Eye but a quick google search yields many positive reviews in regards to the the incredible view from The Eye.  So I only hope you have better luck than me and manage to make it on one of London’s most well known landmarks. After your successful ride, visit Big Ben if only for a photo opportunity. It is a short walk from The Eye and although the clock tower is currently undergoing renovations, it is still a beautiful tower to see despite the construction.

Big Ben 

The London Eye 

Tower of London and Tower Bridge 

Next up on your itinerary is the Tower of London. The Tower of London is a historic castle which is better known for its history as a prison. Take a stroll through the complex and educate yourself on the torture that occurred within these walls. Within Wakefield Tower, you will find replicas of the torture instruments used on the prisoners of the tower. After learning about the torture that went on, bring yourself to a happier place by seeing the Crown Jewels which are housed in the Tower of London.  After you have walked around the Tower of London,  Tower Bridge can be clearly seen from the yard where you can continue with your photo shoot.  And with that you have crossed off two more places to see in London.


Tower Bridge 


Tower of London (Crown Jewels are in this building)

Markets

Now when you get to London you will notice something very quickly…. it is very expensive!  My advice to you is if you are looking for cool vintage items or cheap food, then head over to the various markets scattered across London. If its vintage items, music, and fashion you are looking for then Camden Market should be your first stop.  If it is food you are seeking, head over to the Old Spitalfields Market for an array of different foods to try from meat pies to Chinese noodles.  With a full belly and a one of a kind vintage piece you have now maneuvered through two of London’s markets.

Camden Market- Again you will have to excuse the camera quality on this one. 

Final Thoughts 

So you’ve made it to the end! I hope my guide on London has been helpful and informative in making the most out of your trip to London. As mentioned, the places I have mentioned are by no means a comprehensive list of places you should visit but rather the places I found most intriguing that I believe others will appreciate. There are many more museums, galleries, landmarks, green spaces, and markets to discover and this is just the starting point of your adventure. For those who live in London, I hope I have done well in representing the city you call home.  There is so much to see in London and I am sure that my next visit will only lead to new discoveries. If you have any questions, feel free to send a message. I am always happy to suggest additional places and/or talk about my experiences abroad.  Below I have left some suggestion of British literature both fiction and non fiction which might be of some interest to you in getting a better understanding of London’s history and culture.  Happy Travels!

Book Suggestions

Fiction
Sam Selvon- The Lonely Londoners
Night Haunts- Sukhdev Sandhu
The Buddha of Suburbia- Hanif Kureishi

Non-Fiction
London in the Twentieth Century: A City and Its People – Jerry White

Travels in London: Part One

Hello everyone,

Now that appropriate introductions have been made, I am going to recount the experience which inspired me to see as many places and experience as many cultures as possible. It may consist of several parts, but please bear with me.

It started in January 2014. I was walking the halls of my university campus when I came across a flyer advertising a summer study abroad course in London. At the time, I was your average university student with barely two cents in their pocket. I thought that there was no way I would be able to afford a trip to London, and yet after experiencing an incredibly devastating family tragedy that winter I was determined to find a way.  I was not about to let that year be defined by tragedy. Rather, I would change the trajectory that the year was seemed so determined to take.  So with that in mind and barely enough money to cover the deposit, I applied.

The course studied British literature and art, and how the city was represented through these mediums.  By seeing London through this scope, it was not merely a visit to see the monuments of London but rather it was an experience of  the culture and history of London.  Whereas one might easily overlook London as another big city, it is so much more than that.  With that said, this is where the fun begins. I will take you through what I learned and the things I loved about this great city so that you may love it just as much.

The first thing I loved about London was how ethnically diverse it was. Many media portrayals of the United Kingdom will have you thinking that London is far from ethnically diverse.  However, that is the furthest thing from the truth. This diversity was evident in the plethora of food options available to me ranging from Middle Eastern, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Spanish, Italian, etc. This diversity of food options did more than just satisfy my palate, it also made me reflect on the struggle immigrants faced and continue to face to be recognized as truly “British”.

And so, comes my first suggestion. If you are in London, do yourself a favour and visit the art galleries and museums that London has to offer.  In doing so, you will begin to familiarize yourself with London’s history and culture while also learning about other cultures in the process. London for being an incredibly expensive city to visit, has some perks. First and foremost, many of the museums are free. Now, if you have a few extra pounds to spare please consider putting a donation in the donation boxes to keep the museums free. Some of the museums/galleries I visited while in London include the following:

Victoria & Albert Museum

First and foremost, The V&A  is absolutely massive. It houses photography, sculptures, ironwork, ceramics, theater galleries, and paintings amidst many other things. If you wish to learn about Britain, please kindly visit the Britain collections which are identified on the map of the museum and the Modern collections to learn about Britain. Now,  A visit to the V&A is incomplete without the Theatre and Performance collections. These collections portray the history of the performing arts in the U.K. The costumes on display are absolutely stunning and should not be missed. I could go on about the Victoria & Albert Museum but I will leave you to discover the other gems in the museum.


My apologies for the quality, it was 2014 here. My camera was not up to the times. 

Tate Modern

Now when I was in London in 2014 I did not get a chance to visit the Tate Modern, however over three years later I finally made the visit and man had I been missing out! This gallery is free as well and there are many great exhibits by British artists, and many more pieces by international artists. The Tate houses mixed media pieces along with paintings, tapestry, sculptures, etc. Guiltily, I have to admit that some of my favourite pieces were foreign born artists including Salvador Dali, Cildo Meireles, and Ibrahim El-Salahi. Below are some of the images from my recent visit:

Cildo Meireles- Babel 

Ibrahim El Salahi’s “Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams”
Salvador Dali’s “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” 

The piece that had the biggest impact on me was Cildo Meireles piece. This grand tower is a collection of vintage and modern radios ranging in size all tuned in to different radio stations. The chaotic noise that is produced aims to address modern day’s society failure at communication and the information overload presented to us. This dizzying chaotic display of noise and lights serves as a reminder for us to unplug and notice the world around us. While technology does offer its advantages such as my ability to share this information with you , it has also led to people isolating themselves by living their lives behind that same computer screen.

Final Thoughts

It is with this that I conclude my post on London’s great galleries and museums. Other notable places worth visiting include The British Museum and Whitechapel Gallery. The British Museum is worth visiting just to see the Rosetta Stone alone and the beautiful Egyptian artifacts housed in the museum. On the other hand, the Whitechapel Gallery is constantly hosting different exhibitions worth viewing. During my 2014 visit, Stephen Willats’ “Concerning our Present Way of Living” was one of these exhibitions and portrayed communities that were often ignored such as public housing estates residents and dockworkers. Although it is no longer exhibiting at the Whitechapel Gallery, it is worth researching what is currently exhibiting at the gallery. I hope I have provided you guys with some valuable information about London’s museums and galleries. Please stay tuned for Part Two where I will be discussing London’s theatre scene and what I liked most about each theatre I visited.

 

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