Category Archives: Books & Travel

Tourist or Traveler: that’s the Question!

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Sharing about myself was never easy, even though I’m a talker. This is a story of change. Too short to call it a story, maybe a tale of change sound better. How much our travels and our destinations change whom we are. And so I start…

Who doesn’t want to see the world? To be in all those beautiful, faraway places, and send out pictures to make everyone else jealous? But are you cut to be a tourist or a traveler?

Several years ago, when I met my partner in life, I had many dreams about traveling and visiting places full of history, places I’ve been inspired by, such as Paris, Athens, Rome, London, or New York.

Imagine how thrilled I was when my partner told me that his biggest desire was to see the world!

How long, do you think, until we realized how different our travel styles were? Well, after a couple of short trips done in the sweet honey-moon style, we went on our first real vacation. During this 4 week trip, that took us driving from Germany, to Check Republic, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and back to Germany, we clashed a few times quite badly.

The first real stop was St. Petersburg, only about 2,500 KM and 5 countries away. The plan was to spend 5 days here and then move on to Helsinki, Finland – only a 4 hour drive from St. Petersburg. To me, the highlights of this trip were the big cities and their history. I left home with my mind set on certain places I had to see. So, tourist or traveler – that’s the question.

When we entered ”the land of a thousand lakes” in Finland, spread between the cities of Kuopio to the northeast and Savonlinna to the southwest, I almost didn’t know how to open up to that kind of beauty. Wild. And they call it “a thousand lakes” only metaphorically, because there are over 187 thousand of them!

These were places I haven’t visualized on my agenda.

One evening I went to the Finish sauna. Coming from Germany, I wasn’t surprised by anything because people there get bare all the time. But the Innkeeper tells me the sauna is open in the evening from eight to nine for women and nine to ten for men… this kind of startled me, but I thought… ok. So I went to the sauna at eight, only to find myself all alone in a room that could fit up to fifteen people. Apparently, I was served the tourist “Menu” as everyone else knew that the actual time to go to the sauna was nine to ten, the so called “men’s hour”. And so, on my way back to my room, a jolly group of about ten men and women were making loud jokes while going to the sauna. Oh, well.

Moving north, we crossed the border into Norway, drove past the Arctic tree line, and went all the way to Nordkapp, the last piece of land you can set foot on in Europe. Here we spent a couple of hours just gazing into the Arctic Ocean and looking at peculiar tiny flowers growing bluntly on rocks, a myriad of colors. So be honest, wouldn’t you be happy to be there right now?

But I wasn’t! Nope, not me. I was this miserable tourist, complaining about how windy and cold it was and wondering how much longer until we get to a decent coffee shop.

So tourist or traveler, that’s the question.

A tourist’s plans for a trip include places to visit. A traveler’s plans include tips on how to stay alive. Time and again I was taken out of my comfort zone and overall, this whole trip was one cold traveler’s drop – added to my touristy garden.

When I look back at it now, I see a lot more than a charming vacation. I see a discovery journey, where we’ve learned about secluded places, tried local foods, but most importantly, discovered each other.

At the end of this trip I was still a tourist, but perhaps a better one. My partner and I continued to disagree on vacation styles until life shaped us into the travelers we’ve become. And I’ve got to the point where I understand what Henry Miller said: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

What about you, are you cut to be a tourist or a traveler?

Newfoundland and Labrador: Back Seat Memories (II)

One question came up quite often since part one of this story was published over 2 weeks ago: how did the motorcycle travel from Vancouver to Newfoundland? And I have to say this was not my merit at all, my hubby got to ride it all the way to Montreal (in 4 days!), where he picked me up at the airport when I arrived a few days latter. After spending the weekend with our friends in Montreal, we’ve started our “two up” trip moving towards Baie-Comeau and then Labrador City. Our itinerary took us through Churchill Falls, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Red Bay, Blanc Sablon, St. Barbe, Flower’s Cove, L’Anse aux Meadows – back South towards Gros Morne National Park, Corner Brook, Bay of Islands, Deer Lake, Twillingate. After spending some time here, we moved on to St. John’s without stopping in Terra Nova National Park and without touring the Bonavista peninsula (as initially planned), as the weather was incredibly miserable: cold and foggy. Some say this is how the weather mostly is on the island, you just get used to it. Yet many locals said July was just gorgeous, all nice and sunny, incredible blue sky, but we came in August, of course… After St. Johns, we went to Placentia only to embark on a 16 hours ferry to Nova Scotia (North Sydney). Spent some interesting time on the Cape Breton Island, and then we headed South, went just East of Moncton, on Hwy 1, through Saint John, and took a picturesque route (172 South) that took us on to Deer Island, followed by Campobello Island, connected through small local ferries. This was such a beautiful sunny day! That’s how we arrived at this small US crossing point, Lubec, and once past the border, continued down on the coast, and arrived to Boston two days latter. CowHead-NLNow back to the story. This gorgeous sunset caught us on the shores of Cow Head (Gros Morne area), where we checked into a B&B right on the bay. The light outside was just amazing. It was incredibly quiet and it took me a little bit to realize that – for the first time in days – the wind had been silenced. As if everything that’s movable was emerged into a sacred ritual of sun admiration. Picture-like surroundings were merging into our eyes and, at the time the sun was just half above the sea, the light was of a vivid orange.

Pure happenstance, but we stayed in Cow Head during the Annual Gros Morne Theater Festival, showcasing Newfoundland talent. We wanted to go to the Neddy Norris Night, a great show by all reviews – but ended up feeling lazy and not going. And that’s too bad. If I will ever go back to Newfoundland, I’d like to stay in this little place for at least a week during the theater festival. It’s such a great atmosphere!

Corner Brook is nothing but a bigger city. All I remember is having a great dinner, some amazing sushi at Newfoundland Sushi (we had a Dory Load of Sushi for Two). The next morning, after a great hot breakfast our host at the Green Garden B&B graciously made for us, we hopped on our Honda and took a loop trip to see the Bay of Islands. It started like a fun day, beautiful blue sky with puffy clouds, nice sea food for lunch, all until we realized we have a flat on the back tire. But my hubby was ready and trained to use his super-kit and got it fixed in less then 1 hour, right there on the side of the highway. I can’t really give any technical details, but what’s certain is that today, more than 8,000 Km latter, he’s riding with the same back tire on – so good job, eh? TwillingateNFThe shore above is in Twillingate – one of the most picturesque outports in Newfoundland, located on the centre edge of what is known as Iceberg Alley. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any floating icebergs as July was too hot and they all melted. Yep. But to make up for that, we went to one of the local wineries, Auk Island Winery, and had tasted several amazing wines. Nope, I’m not going to tell you what happened after. Only that yes, we bought a bottle of Aurora, a medium-dry white named after the Northern Lights, to enjoy at our B&B that night.

In St. John’s we had to change our Honda’s chain and sprockets. We knew this was coming since we were back in Corner Brook, where we stopped at a motorcycle shop, had them ordered and had the appointment booked at Honda 1 in St. John’s. It was a really great service and they had it ready for us in one hour, so we didn’t have to sacrifice too much time out of our site seeing (thanks to my hubby’s good planing). St. John’s is considered by some to be the oldest English-founded city in North America, but it was incorporated as a city only in 1921. It’s amazing to see how both old and new mingle in this small town, considered, of course, the largest city in Newfoundland. St.JohnsNFWe went to Cape Spear Lighthouse, and also to Signal Hill, and didn’t miss the famous George Street for some nightlife excitement. We had a good time, but I wouldn’t go that far and say that ‘this place is like no other’. Two days latter we headed to Placentia and embarked on the ferry to Nova Scotia. This was a fun trip: 16 hours, it’s almost like a cruise, only a lot more expensive – considering it’s just a night and you have to pay for all the restaurants.

Cape Breton Island was so beautiful. If you ever plan to go to the East coast but only have a week or less, definitely do the trails here. We had a little bit of a story with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) and lost a day practically because of extremely bad customer service, but decided that we’re going to stay one more day and will complete the trails as we initially wanted. NSThe host at The Maven Gypsy B&B on the Cabot trail was originally from Vancouver, and I actually felt quite excited to hear some good ‘vancouverite’ accent. Accommodation was a great, welcoming atmosphere, plus really good breakfast – a bit pricey though. Well, I guess that’s what one pays for such a great location. There is so much more to say about all we’ve seen on our way to Boston. I really liked the two islands we’ve seen on our way to Lubec: Deer Island and Campobello Island. I’m not sure how the winter looks around there, I should imagine is a bit less romantic and more isolated, as one of the ferries is not working and the other has pretty irregular hours comparing to the summer time. But those definitely are gorgeous places! Boston01Boston was phenomenal. We stayed at Marriott this time, left our motorcycle parked at the hotel and had used a subway 7-Days pass instead. There is no way I could possible say what I liked more about Boston, but probably the way people gather and talk and eat and smile made me think of Timisoara, the Romanian city of my Alma Mater university. Or maybe it’s just because there was something magical about it, something that made me forget about future plans and, like a gigantic hand, managed to hold me in the present – a beautiful one, where I was in a place like this with someone I love and it just felt good. It felt so good.

From Boston I’ve cheated again, I took a flight back to Vancouver, where my hubby arrived one week latter – all in one piece, nice tan and a victorious smile on his face: “I made it!”

Newfoundland and Labrador: Back Seat Memories (I)

This past summer, we decided it’s worth spending our vacation at home, in Canada. Looking at the map, there were not too many provinces we haven’t been to so far and, by elimination, Newfoundland and Labrador was the only one left on the map. Followed by the Territories. Looking at the very few roads (mostly unpaved) Labrador has, I thought… oh my! But hubby comes saying: let’s do it, it’s adventure time! Unfortunately (or maybe not?) I didn’t realize until it was kind of late how wild some parts of Newfoundland and especially Labrador really are. As someone mentioned in an article I can’t recall now, on a trip you may feel wet, cold, hungry, tired or even lost, but when you get back home safe, you call it adventure! And truth be told, I came back from this trip incredibly refreshed and fully energized. Memories of places, people, and stories are vivid and they overtake in size and power any idea of a “fun all-inclusive” vacation type. These life experiences are slowly shaping us, as they travel with us towards reaching our own goals. What did we manage to bring back this time? People. Nature. Life. A completely different look at what Canada – as a whole – really is. Shores like nowhere else. Sea food. Vikings village & trails. Boats. Lighthouses and their keepers.IMG_7921-smWhat I didn’t really see around that much was… immigrants. Funny enough I didn’t even realize it until after being in the province for over a week. Even if the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Nominee Program (NLPNP) works hard towards providing an alternate and quicker entry into Canada, as it allows Newfoundland and Labrador to nominate applicants, a much quicker immigration process for qualified skilled workers, international graduates, and their families who wish to permanently settle in this beautiful province, we weren’t able to see many around. Just south of L’Anse aux Meadows, when we stopped to fill up on gas and I went inside the convenience store trying to warm up and add an extra layer (it was 8 degrees Celsius on a beautiful August day at noon), I got into a conversation with the store keeper, a lady in her 50s, and her friend, who was keeping her company over a cup of coffee… yep, they do have a funny accent and I really had to pay attention to make sure I understand… But when she asked me what I do for work and  I said “I’m an Employment Counsellor” her face showed clear signs of confusion, so I went on, thinking I’m helping her understand, and I said that I work in a program called “Skills Connect for Immigrants”. Nonetheless, this had quite an opposite effect on her and I could see she’s now totally startled… too bad I couldn’t take a picture, yet her funny face is still fresh in my memory. Now, her friend, who was a more traveled person (she actually visited Vancouver, as she proudly told me latter on), jumped in to help her: “you know, they have lots of immigrants in the Vancouver area, and there are big communities with people from all over the world, thousands of them!” Poor store keeper was still looking at me as if I was from a different planet… what a feeling to be looked at this way! Latter on, she confessed she never in her life left the island (Newfoundland).

At this point I’ve started to look around more carefully and realized that not only there were not too many immigrants in the area, but also there were not too many young people, and not too many children, and most likely not enough schools. Unemployment rate in the province is the highest in Canada, as per the latest statistics. So is the lack of literacy. Newfoundland and Labrador are now at a critical crossroad for addressing and advancing literacy skills, yet they need federal help; there are many provincial councils supporting the general effort to help all people reach their full literate potential. It’s different when you only read about it, yet it makes such an impact when you get to see it. PicturesinNLPeople are so friendly. Not a sign of the vancoverite-specific sophistication. I’ve heard many times about the well-know old fashioned Newfie hospitality, but it’s actually much better then all you can imagine. At one of the Bed & Breakfast locations in the Red Bay area (http://www.grenfellbandb.ca), as our hosts knew we were coming on a motorcycle from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and they knew it has been raining pretty much the whole day, with miserable cold winds, and they knew we were supposed to get across about 560 Km of unpaved roads (as part of our Translabrador Hwy Adventure) – so they started a fire in their beautiful backyard gazebo (white and tall, with large windows and glass doors), where we could hang to dry our rain suits, our boots and gloves – all on a long rope, that was fastened across the gazebo’s wooden ceiling. That’s what locals do when they return form a stormy fishing day, it’s standard procedure. Then we were provided with some huge rubber clogs, and walked through the yard’s mushy-wet emerald-green grass, to enter into a beautiful house, a historic building, which back in 1930s used to serve as a Nursing Station. As I stepped in, I suddenly forgot I was covered in wet mud just an hour ago, I forgot we had to use a hose to clean ourselves up at a gas station just before checking in, I forgot all that. I just felt strangely light, like I was 12 year old again, a girl coming back into her grandma’s warm kitchen after a summer storm. A soaking wet redhead with lots of freckles and shiny blue eyes. They offered us hot tea and biscuits. Each room was decorated with amazing quilted covers and white embroideries. Hardwood, warm floors, sparkling clean and just like heaven. I even found mini chocolates on the elegantly wrapped king bed. After a long warm bath, I slept like an angel, woke up in the morning and ran to the window. The ocean was beautiful, but really stormy. Wait, what? Again? It was raining pretty bad. I decided I was going to just ignore the weather. Downstairs, in an elegant dining room, with a long table seating 12, decorated with beautiful china and a gorgeous fruit platter, Peggy was making breakfast. The smell was amazing. I poured myself some hot black coffee and enjoyed looking at the rain outside while cheating with the host. In that rain, my hubby was  getting the pressure up in the motorcycle’s tires, as firmness has to change from an unpaved to a paved road ahead. Our Honda CBF 1000 did pretty well so far. Yay! No more unpaved roads (or at least that’s what I thought at the time). So I said to myself: happy birthday girl, you’re on the other side of the world!

CowHeadNLHappy and dry, we loaded up after breakfast and went to the ferry in Blanc Sablon, QC to cross over to St. Barbe, NL – a quick, close to two hour, ride. This is where we were saying good by to Labrador. A couple of peculiar facts about this ferry: even if Blanc Sablon is practically in Quebec, the ferry operates by Newfoundland Standard Time (NST), plus one must make a reservation no matter what, and the staff is not exactly motorcycle friendly either (those who are used to our local BC Ferries know exactly what I’m talking about). Anyhow, we made it to St. Barbe, it was still raining on the island, still windy, but we had a super nice and dry afternoon in L’Anse aux Meadows, where we checked in at Viking Village Bed and Breakfast and celebrated my birthday with a rather elegant dinner of authentic Newfoundland sea food, at the Daily Catch. DailyCatchNLSome more Newfoundland adventures, followed by a long 16 hours crossing to Nova Scotia and a beautiful East coast style ride to Boston, are to follow soon.

Arriving to Vancouver

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Flying for the first time to Canada, to Vancouver more precisely, was, for each of us, a different type of experience. It happened many years ago. For our son, who’s age was still counted in months at the time, was just one of those regular trips, he didn’t really get all the fuss around him since he was on the go from day 1 of his life, so this trip was no different. To me… I was literally trying to enjoy it, as much as a young mom could, but as I have been only minimally involved in the trip planning itself, there were simply too many things I didn’t know, not to mention all the things I didn’t know I don’t know. So about that specific emotion “you’re changing your life forever”…  I can’t remember. To my husband… well, that is a different story. He was watching the Rockies as we flu over on a beautify sunny day, and I could see he was barely breathing. To see the Rockies was one of his big dreams. It was the first day of May. I didn’t understand much at the time. The plan was to come here, so we were coming. It was quite simple for a side watcher. All the wheels turning behind the entire mechanism din’t seem to be one of my troubles at the time, and I should say I have rather failed to consider this arrival a life changer. But it was.

We landed at about 3 pm. My hubby would know exactly, I am quite sure he still remembers. Went through the landing immigration paperwork quite fast as he had it all set and knew everything step by step. A friend from North Vancouver was waiting for us at the airport. The airport looked cute, but small. We’ve loaded our luggage into the minivan and left. Buildings looked funny, many seemed unfinished, with no roof, nothing like in Europe I thought, and I was rather disappointed. People were nice and smiling all the time, but as I didn’t speak any English I didn’t quite get why. Once in our friends’ apartment I felt better, even though many things looked funny there as well, the toilet was full of water (first time I flushed I thought it will overflow), the bathtub was really low, and our friend, holding a green smoothie, was happily explaining how great this is for your health. But there was a gorgeous view of the Lion’s Gate bridge from their balcony. That – I loved! As the night settled, we were definitely jetlagged, so I stayed on the balcony and looked at the sparkling view over the gulf for a long time. A myriad of tiny stars made room for themselves, one near the other, just to add more glamour to the whole picture. sheridan-lakeTwo days latter, we moved our luggage into a rental car and embarked on a two weeks trip around British Columbia – our first discovery journey. The plan was to stop for the first night at a hidden in the forest cottage on the Sheridan Lake,then a few days in Prince George as I had to see the UNBC, then move on to see Jasper National Park, 3 days stop in Edmonton, then Calgary, followed by a stop in Banff for a few days, we drove up on the Ice Fields Parkway towards Mt. Athabasca, did some hiking, came back to Lake Louise (which I fell in love with forever), Yoho National Park, Revelstoke, Kelowna, and back to Vancouver. I still remember pretty well many of the amazing Bed & Breakfast locations we stayed at throughout this trip. They have added local flavor to the breakfast time, when we could learn more about people, listen to their stories and try to understand what makes them Canadians. It was an amazing trip, helped us see how huge, how beautiful and how delicate British Columbia is, and we even didn’t go past Prince George… some day I should come back here to write more about certain parts of it.

419

419jpgI didn’t know what 419 means – or that internet scams coming from the streets and backwaters of Nigeria may have a name, until I’ve read Will Ferguson’s 419. The author takes his readers from a car accident in Calgary all the way into the bizarre criminal gangland of Nigeria’s 419 Internet scams (named for the section of the Nigerian criminal code dealing with obtaining funds illegally). I was surprised by the novel’s unreserved gravity, rhetorical questions, and by the way Laura, a Canadian copy editor, takes action and tracks down the men who ruined her father. An amazing read, truly recommended.