Where the Mountains Follow You and the People Don’t Cry. Napoli, Italy.

Another month, another city. I have been truly blessed to be able to travel so much already within the first half of the year, which reminds me, it’s already the end of June?!

I travelled to Naples, a southern city by the bays of Italy, with a group of my friends at the end of May, so this post is overdue now. I have to admit, considering my lack of knowledge and expectations on my previous travels, it should come as no surprise that I had no clue where Naples was and what kind of city it was. Between deadlines and exams I had only seen one picture of the place and it set me up for a completely unexpected holiday. What I had imagined was, sandy beaches with traditional, Greek type multi-coloured houses on hilltops and generally the laid back, do-nothing type retreat.

It came through with its aesthetics because the google images were true to their photography. The houses looked magnificent, and the bay meant the apartments all had ocean view bedrooms. It was very scenic. But I realised when I arrived that Naples did not lend itself to the retreat type.

Instead, Naples was a humble old city filled with the natural, historic beauty of Italy. It stood stuck in a time where people closed their small simple shops early in the afternoon to spend time with friends, where people walked along the streets and or sat outside their houses to talk about everything and nothing. I noticed that the Napolion’s were always happy, friendly and welcoming wherever we went. I don’t exaggerate when I say I didn’t see a single unhappy face when I was there, the people really don’t cry (excluding when they are offended but that’s another story).

So although on the whole, Naples is peaceful, nonchalant and calm, it is the perfect location for travel between other towns and famous locations, most notably Pompeii. The coast allowed for oversea travels to smaller surrounding islands like Capri and even when remaining in Naples, the city hosts ancient castles, cathedrals and the city tour bus drives to the top of the mountain for quite literally, stunning views. It is no wonder that Naples and its people are proud and joyful.

I will go on to share a few of the pictures I captured while I was there but before that I wanted to share some of my experiences that will hopefully encourage travel to Naples but also prove as helpful tips.

  1. Prices

In case not already obvious, the currency used in Naples is Euros which means that the prices there are relatively expensive, unless you know where to look (a bit like any place really). To find cheap food or cheap anything really it is advisable to look in a few places first before buying and always always ask the price of anything before touching it, (especially in shops that don’t have price tags located visibly on any of the items) incase they decide to rip you off or scam you by telling you it’s already been bought so you have to pay. The more touristy you look, the likelier it is they’ll rip you off. It sounds obvious but I say this because my friends and I dress in cultural attire and first and foremost this attracted a lot of attention but more importantly this meant, they thought we didn’t know how pricing worked.

2. Food

Naples is often described as the birthplace of modern Pizza, so it’s inevitable that mostly all and any restaurant in Naples will be a Pizzeria if not a Pasta house. That being said, as it is also by the bay, you’ll find seafood, seafood and more seafood. My friends and I stayed in Naples for five days and our diet was simply pizza and on the odd occasion pasta. What was most interesting is that Pizza was both a cheap meal in some places but equally an expensive dinner in other places. Suffice to say both and either pizza tasted mouthwateringly delicious. The right amount of melted cheese, a perfect quantity of tomato sauce, topped with the all natural, organic and wholesome Italian dressings and ingredients. As Naples isn’t a popular tourist destination and because they are so proud of their food (as they should be) there isn’t a largely diverse selection of restaurants around so if you do fancy something different you’ll be looking for ages before you can find something. Equally, if you’re vegetarian or like us, only eat halal meat, you’ll be finding it difficult to find a variety of foods you can eat.  I assume that most of the time the locals cook their own meals (like normal people) and if they do want a nice meal out (pizza obviously) they leave it to the professionals.

3. Travelling around and about

To go Naples requires a lot more planning than what we had done. There are so many places you can go to but you need to be prepared and organised about timings as well as well transport. For the most part, the taxis and the metros can take you everywhere. A single ticket from Naples to Pompeii cost us roughly £1.50 pp which is very good in comparison to UK travel prices. The entrance to the ruins are varied depending on ages and discounts applicable but once you’re in, you can spend as long as you’d like and this can take up a lot of time too (as there’s quite literally so much ground to cover). Mount Vesuvius is seen in the distance from the coast of Naples wherever you are. It seems to follow you around, so we felt that it is a must to visit if you ever do go Naples. In general though, Italy is just… Picture, instagram and snapchat perfect. Perfect for making people jealous.

A ticket to Capri on the ferry cost us roughly £20 pp which is again, very good. The prices aren’t too much of an issue so it’s more about planning where you want to go and how long you want to go there for. When travelling to Capri, you might want to take into account visits to the caves which may require at least an extra hour or two. The local bus here also takes you up to the top of the mountain and to the other side of the island, so, if you have the time it’s well worth the journey for more stunning views, making new friends and experiencing the simple life of a traditional Italian.

4. Misconceptions

Some misconceptions people have about Italians is that they always talk angrily. Do they talk loudly? Yes. Angrily? No. They are the most happy and laid back people I’ve ever come across, they all walk slow, the queues are slow, they eat slow and serve slow. They are so chill. They are not only chill but they are so welcoming to strangers too. They like to take pictures, they might even photobomb, but they love to say hello and make a new friend. Having said that, this doesn’t mean they are naive in any sense, they know what they’re doing and interestingly they can get easily offended if you walk into their stores and then walk out without purchasing something, or… Walk in, take a long look around and then say no, wasting their time. That’s something to be wary of.

Another one, is that, Italians are lazy. Noooo. Again this goes back to their laid back character but they are by no means lazy, when they work, they work hard and if you take a look around you’ll always see people exercising or out for a run, or on a walk. I don’t think they’re being lazy they’re just enjoying life… And why not right? They live in such a beautiful city.

 

 

 

 

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What Do You Know About the ‘Most Beautiful City in the World?’ Paris vs. London

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been somewhere new, and found that it wasn’t what they were expecting at all?

I didn’t have many expectations to be fair when visiting Paris, only the one – that it would be different to home – because that usually is the case with travelling. And in many senses, most of the points I discuss in this post prove that yes, Paris is different to London. The main difference is it’s architecture. Which is probably what gave Paris its title of ‘the most beautiful city in the world.’ The preservation of the 17th century buildings, is almost like going back in time. I say almost because, it’s not like going back in time, not really. It’s the capital city, just like London, it has the metro, London has TFL. The streets are small and always busy. There are the same grumpy faces and the same dreary weather. (That last bit is partially true because I was lucky enough to get the hot sun and high temperatures while I was there – I can thank/blame global warming for that.)

So really apart from pretty buildings and a cleaner river what is different about Paris? What is it that people are not telling you? What do you actually know about Paris other than its beauty?

  1. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.

London’s transport is well known for it’s annoyingly hypnotic sort of repetitive voice on the underground. No matter how deep your thoughts are there’s no escaping the inevitable moment that the voice in your head says those lines in absolute sync with the voice on speaker. Well, Paris doesn’t have that. If you’re lost in thought, well sorry, you’ve missed your stop. With their incredible  sense of preservation, many of the trains still use the train handles which you open yourself when you want to get off (quite unnecessary if you ask me. I mean it looks all fancy but what if you have a thousand bags to pick up, then what?) Call it a first world problem or what you will but, if this is not already stressful enough, the doors stay open for a mere 20 seconds, maybe even shorter, before they close. I suppose the extreme blaring horn sound that warns you that the doors are closing serve their purpose here. Even if they scare the life out of you and make you feel like you’ve been caught stealing from a bank.

2. Please keep your belongings close to you at all times.

It is not news, wherever you are in the world, that when you go abroad you must have a heightened sense of protection over your items, because pickpockets are everywhere. Always have been, always will. Paris has never struck me as the type of city where pickpockets come in abundance, yet it is the case. It’s easy to see why with overcrowded tourist attractions, but it has never been highlighted about how common it is in Paris. I didn’t think it would have needed to be either, despite how busy London is, theft is not on the list of ‘what should I be most concerned about?’ It was only when I caught a thugs hand in my backpack did I actually realise that they really are everywhere and no matter how safely you think you have kept your belongings, there’s always a safer way. The best of the theives come in disguises, you can be fooled by an old man with a newspaper and a decent outfit. For all you know the homeless boy on the street is probably more honest than him. (That being said there were homeless boys on the street who would place their cups of change in the middle of the walkway so that in groups of people someone was bound to knock it over and eventually stop.)

3. HI HO It’s off to work we go.

I always hear from people who visit Britain and in particular London that, British people are so grumpy. I feel that way sometimes too and i’m British so I can’t defend this statement because it’s most likely true. You walk the streets and people mind their own business (so really that’s a good thing…) People just don’t seem to be smiling or really aware of their surroundings because they’re so caught up in their hectic lives. Although having experienced walking around Paris a whole lot I feel like we (the British) are far politer – as we are proud to be – than Parisians. They probably don’t really care whether they’re seen as polite or not because they have art and art is humanity but, if someone pushes past you, it’s safe to say that they may not apologise and you shouldn’t feel offended because it’s not you, it’s just them. That’s the busy, grumpy life they lead – just a tad grumpier than the British.

4. Before you leave, please clean up.

As strange as it may sound, I think i’ll have to mark this is as the highlight of my trip to Paris purely because it’s so underrated and under appreciated in my opinion. Everyone and anyone who has travelled to London before knows that it’s not always the cleanest city. I’ve never been proud of this fact because no matter how many cleaners you see around there always seems to be a mess regardless. Paris is satisfyingly clean. The effort they put into keeping it that way can make a bad day good. The public toilets even have a self cleansing system after each person has used it – what could be better than that, honestly? The world needs self cleaning public toilets and it would be a much happier place.

5. …But we’re still waiting in the queue.

Maybe it’s a European thing… standing in queues. It’s definitely not just a British thing. The French queues go on for miles. The longest that we had waited in a queue on our trip was probably one and a half hours. This was just one queue, after that there were several more throughout the day. For such a fast paced city, there is an incredible amount of waiting. The Eiffel Tower for example has a queue for security, tickets, security, entrance, lifts up and down – in that order. Neither of those queues are short during term time so one can only imagine the length of them when it’s peak season. I can’t remember the last time I stood in a queue in London for that long. Usually they move pretty fast but I could be wrong. The British are not the only queue lovers though, let’s get the word around. And as is customary in queues, there will always be salesmen who wish to get a quick quid off you – you’ll always find differing prices but the funniest part is that they all sell the exact same things so you’ll get really bored of seeing them around when you’re standing in the scorching heat for hours. No doubt.

It’s not that I prefer one over the other, as they are two very similar cities. I was more amazed that I wasn’t ever told how similar the two are and that the differences are almost mediocre – except for the self cleaning toilets. As a landscape, Paris seems to provide better opportunities for viewing the city. Sacre Coeur allows you to see the cityscape from high up for free (excluding transport) as opposed to paying to go up the Shard or the London Eye. It’s important to know that not every trip will change your life in some way. Still, it’s worth travelling anyway and discovering for yourself what a place has to offer or not offer.

Trip Details:

Period of stay: 5 nights, 6 days

Place of stay: Paris, Colonel Fabien

Places visited:

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Musée du Louvre
  • Musée d’Orsay
  • Versailles Palace
  • Pantheon
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • La Sacre Coeur
  • Rue du Bac

Lessons from an Unprepared Traveller – My Trip to Oslo

It’s only a short trip. My mum writes.

The voice inside my head says ‘ugh’ and my thumbs type furiously in response.

It’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one lugging around 10KG unexpectedly.

I look down at my suitcase and close my eyes. ‘The journey sometimes, is more memorable than the trip itself’ I think, reassuring myself as I sit alone on the early morning train, disappointed and significantly tired already. With stupid decisions come their respective consequences.

There were a lot of things I expected, visiting my friend in Oslo, cold temperatures with heavy snow and sleeping on the floor of her student rental room. What I didn’t expect was that getting there would require most, if not all, of my physical strength and then some.

“Come visit me in Norway guys! Please? It’s super cheap and you didn’t come see me in Paris.” Sky says. Samina and I exchange devious looks. The feeling of spontaneity runs through our veins.

“Let’s do it.” We say to each other and within the week we book the cheapest tickets we can find.

We’re coming to Norway Sky! I message the group chat. We change the group name to include the Norwegian flag and have a momentary celebration through emoticons.

We were mostly excited because we managed to get such cheap flights but obviously cheap flights required sacrifices – like a flight with absolutely no on board entertainment and no complimentary food!

So, we’re booked for the middle of January, just before our final semester of our final year.

Such a responsible and entirely fitting thing to do as a student.

We had just over a month before our ‘great and spectacular five-day adventure’ to Oslo. We discussed all the things we could do when we get there, with the naive intention to plan and construct an itinerary closer to the time of departure. Only, as master procrastinators (and a ton load of REAL WORK to get on with), that was never going to happen.

A few days later we decide it would be wise to book our transport to the airport. I, being overly relaxed about everything allowed Samina to sort this out, who was clearly happy to, being quite different to me. So an hour after extensive research (on her part) we booked a coach to Stansted airport. Cheapest ones obviously.

Guys which airport  will you arrive at? Sky asks us, a week prior to departure.

Oh yh, we still need to check. Samina replied and then privately messaged me,

We haven’t even planned what we’re going to do yet.

4 days prior to departure.

Guys, have you checked in? Sky asked.

Are we supposed to [check in] this early?

Yeah, it says so on the website.

Oh shoot… Ok we’ll do it by tonight!

The night before departure.

Up until this point, I hadn’t gone on many short trips. I had travelled for a week at the least. Which is why the flight to Norway was different in many ways. The first being I could only take cabin luggage (which I had never previously done), second being, that the weight limit was 10KG max and finally there was the case of carrying a sleeping bag around.

The wise owl in me had the urge to purchase a new suitcase but my mum convinced me not to ‘waste my money’ as we had one lying around in the loft. When I finally got it down from there I began to wonder whether I had made the right decision, it looked weak and worn out. Apparently it was only 3 years old but the appearance screamed otherwise. I texted Samina who sent me a picture of her stylish, strong suitcase (also so much thinner than mine) who told me she had gone through hell and back to fit her sleeping bag in it. I wondered how she would fit everything else in it, if her sleeping bag took up most of the space. An hour later I sat on the floor, packed and ready.

“So, what airport was it that you’re going to again?”

“Stanstead mum.” I said for the fifth time.

“And you’re getting there by coach right? Where’s the coach from again?”

“Good question. I should probably check that.”  I logged on to my email and scrolled to find the ticket details. My face dropped. “Stratford.”

“Stratford?! That’s really far! What time are you going to leave then?” I thought for a moment. Our flight was at 11:55 and the coach would leave from Stratford at 8 so, that would mean… I dropped my head,

“6:30am” What have I done, I thought.

After a lot of conferring, my mum decided she would drop me off to the nearest station to save me taking the bus that early.

D DAY (Departure Day).

I awoke at 5:15. I’m not a morning person but the adventure ahead freshened me. Tired but willing, my mum drove me to the station. I got out of the car and grabbed my suitcase from the back, lifted the pull handle and waved goodbye to my mum. As I turned to make my way towards the station, something stopped me. I looked back hoping with all the power in me that it wasn’t what I thought it was. Suddenly the weight of the five layers I wore crushed in on me, the scarf around my neck tightened. The bag on my shoulder felt heavier and the god forsaken sleeping bag looked like it had grown.

The pull handle on my suitcase was broken.

Was it from inside me or did I actually cry a little outburst of disbelief? I can’t remember. When I finally got to Stratford and found that I had exited the station in the wrong direction with only ten minutes before the coach would depart I knew it would take everything I had in me, my damned suitcase and oh god! That sleeping bag, to get to Norway without breaking down.

Dar-es-Salaam (II)

There are a number of reasons why I’ve been putting off this post, the main one being that I was just lazy – one of those dreadful writer’s traits. At the same time I have been really meaning to write this post up, but like I said I was just lazy. It’s quite surprising to my self even, that it’s taken me this long to post something about my trip to Dar-es-Salaam when in actuality it was such a beautiful trip for me.  

As with any trip however it had its ups and downs but I think it’s about time I get straight into it before I begin to ramble.

From the very moment I landed to the moment I took off again there was one repetitive remark that spread through the air amongst the group of tourists that arrived with me, which was “It’s just like India…” Let’s just say for argument’s sake that the majority of these people were either from Mumbai or had visited Mumbai (as that’s the only city I’ve visited in India.) Speaking as a person who has only been to India once in my life and only to Mumbai at that, I’d down right disagree with that statement because whilst the narrow roads and the dusty streets may resemble Mumbai the differences very much outweigh the similarities.

1. Clean

Whilst both cities are coastal and relatively similar sizes, there is a significant amount of land in Mumbai that remains poverty stricken and just quite -to put it bluntly – dirty. By this I don’t mean the people, but the streets. There are piles of dirt in ditches and rubbish alongside walkways. Dar-es-Salaam’s street are basically polar opposite. It is one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been to, and dare I say it without facts and figures, possibly in the running for cleanest in the world (I’ll have to check Wikipedia for some kind of confirmation of that.) The people living in, around and all over Dar-es-Salaam make a big effort to clean the city and keep it that way which is why the air feels so much clearer too.

2. Quiet

Again, speaking relatively. Here I mean the general traffic and the hustle and bustle of every day life. If there is one thing anyone from anywhere can agree with, is that Mumbai’s traffic is quite possibly the worst place to be if you’re from a western country. The sounds of constant horning along with absolutely no concern for road or even pedestrian safety for that matter is the source of culture shock for many who visit India. In comparison, Dar-es-Salaam’s drivers are angelic. The driving is less manic and therefore produce less chaos altogether. The horning is almost little to none, they use it for the right reasons which is how one from the western country would like it. The only sounds to be heard in the streets at night are of people talking but even this is quite minimal too.

3.Genuine

I’m sure a lot of people won’t be offended when I say that cabbies in Mumbai are quick to pick up on tourist vibes and where they can scam their passengers. They’re not only quick but they’re practically experts at it and anyone new to the country with little experience of these kind of circumstances have little money in their pockets in no time. One of the most noticeable traits in the people of Dar-es-Salaam was their genuinity. With most eastern countries quite often when taking a cab the cab driver declares a high rate and if you’re smart to haggle, you will. You will usually get the price down to a more reasonable rate but sometimes, especially in Mumbai, the rate is not reasonable but it’s lower than before and you’d rather pay and get to your destination than to spend another half hour trying to get another taxi to stop. In Dar-es-Salaam, there are two rates, the high rate they charge you to begin with and the reasonable rate that you eventually get them to take you at. More often we found that the cab driver’s were kindly ( I mean without fuss) willing to take us at the reasonable rate we suggested rather than demanding more than necessary. The most important part was that they didn’t argue with us for more money or get angry if we didn’t give them the amount they wanted, they simply wanted to earn the money and be done with it. There was no real indecency of scamming a person out of their money.

4. Heat

A traveler’s tip.Both cities are hot, well, both countries, Tanzania and India respectively but the heat in Dar-es-Salaam is not so much scorching as it is tiring. It keeps you sweating even when your sitting and consequently considerably thirsty. Mumbai on the other hand has more of a burning sun that leaves your skin peeling when you’re back home.

I’m sure I could find a few more things to compare but I’ll leave it short and sweet. Excluding point 1, generally points 2 and 3 are relative – ofcourse wherever you travel to, being a tourist inevitably poses the risk of being scammed or being robbed so it’s not to say that it won’t happen but I think in comparison to Mumbai it would be less so. 

I read in an article that Dar-es-Salaam was one of the least photographed cities and it was quite clear why. The apparent threat of thieves and gangs kept everyone alert at all times, bags hidden, devices stored away, but even on the streets, not a single local was seen carrying a phone in their hand whilst they walked to work or wherever they were going. It wasn’t as shocking as much as it was enlightening for someone who travelled from a much more ‘open and free’ society if you will. Having said that, it is wiser to be wary and keep your phones and purses hidden because if the locals do it too than you’d be foolish not to.

On a final note, I returned home with a nice glowing tan from the Dar-es-Salaam sun and I hate to say it but head lice to remind me of my time sleeping on the floor in a house full of 60 people. Yes. Head lice. I was just as horrified and disgusted as you are now reading this. Believe me, I wanted to cry. I think that just about says enough for you to know to keep your head covered… 

Dar-es-Salaam (I)

The first part of this post will be a personal reflection of my visit whilst the second will be a review of the city. 

Dar-es-salaam literally translates to “city of peace” and yet everything we had heard about the place before travelling was almost completely the opposite.

“They cut off your hands and steal your purses.”

Just about sums up everybody’s impression of this small exotic city in the east of Africa. If it wasn’t chatter about thieves and gangs it was worry about the risks of yellow fever.

“Have you got your yellow fever vaccination done?”, “No, have you?”

It was only day 2 after having found out we were going and I was already sick of hearing any kind of story related to Dar-es-Salaam. I just wanted to get out there and experience things for myself before deciding whether it was really that dangerous. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from my travels it’s that, it’s important to be wary but no so much so that you’re always fearing for your life.

The purpose of my visit to Tanzania was as good as pilgrimage. As a practising Dawoodi Bohra, I’ve been lucky enough to attend Ashura congregations (The mourning of Imam Hussein’s (AS) martyrdom) with his holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (TUS) a second time -the first being in Houston, Texas and the second Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania. The one thing I pride myself in is being faithful, not only do I have strong faith in my God but I am a strong and an unbreakable believer in the faith that I follow. Every year I feel that faith grow stronger and more resolute than before…Even when I think it’s not possible, it somehow just happens.

So when my faith is as strong as it is, things like thieves and gangs seem to worry me less than others around me because I know I am protected and no matter what happens I have someone to look to for help. 30,000+ Dawoodi Bohras attended Ashura this year (1438H/2016) and from those you’ll probably find a large number of people who have decided to blog their experiences, some of the city, some of what they’ve learnt and taken away. For me this trip in its essence was life-changing and so for the first time I feel like sharing something, although a little, about myself.

This past year has been a busy one to say the least. I have been so involved in various activities and projects that I’ve very much been living in the present. The future has never been an issue for me because I take things as they come – that was until things got messy along the way and I was left questioning where exactly it was I planning to head. It’s all good and well to live in the moment, enjoy things as they are but to have no direction poses a problem, especially when the end of university is so near for me.

Before I left for Tanzania, I had hoped with all my might that the trip would hold something special for me, something that would make my future look more promising and something to ensure that I have direction. Of course these are high expectations to have for a seventeen day trip and yet I had them anyway. During the ten days of Ashura, His Holiness (TUS) delivers sermons during which the first half teaches of the Islamic shari’at and the second retells the happenings of Karbala almost fourteen hundred years ago. Naively I had hoped something from these sermons, or just being in Dar-es-Salaam in general, would strike a chord in me. Ironically something one of my lecturers told us comes to mind,

“It’s unrealistic to expect your dream career to quite literally just appear to you in a dream. You have to be actively searching for it.”

My issue was that I had been doing so many things over the year that I already had an idea of my likes and dislikes, this left me trapped. I was too selective. Nothing seemed to fit my needs or likes. Luckily enough when you travel to another country everything you’ve left behind matters less and less. My ‘live in the moment’ behaviour came out again and I couldn’t care less about my future.

Everything changed after the sermons.

On the first day something Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (TUS) had said suddenly gave me an idea. An idea of what my life could look like -just a possibility. The idea started off as a small seed in my gut, something felt right and ensuring about it, it was snug and warm and I would keep that idea safe for future use. The next day arrived and the second sermon seemed to speak directly to me, to that seed in my stomach – like it was lightly being showered with water to grow. Everything seemed related to it and in the most positive way. By the third day the seed was now a healthy green spout which I knew would only grow larger and more firm. I was becoming more and more sure that this idea was possible and that it was not only what was good for me but what was meant for me.

I have to admit that if I rewind a few years back, a lot of the teachings that were mentioned in these sermons  were lost on me. They were too advanced for my level of understanding and I would only really pick up on things I already knew or had heard before. This year everything was crystal clear. It would be sensible to assume that the reason behind this is age and maturity but I also am a big believer in “everything has it’s time” and this was most likely mine.

So I say, Dar-es-Salaam was quite literally a ‘life-changing’ experience for me and it’s fitting that I found peace with myself in a city whose names denotes peace.

Awkward Dance Moves, Mosquito Bites and Stunning Views…(Part 2)

Our amazing 5 day road trip through the Canadian Rockies began in the small town of Hinton. Residing in a small Inn close to the entrance to Jasper National Park, we didn’t waste any time settling in, we set off just as soon as we had checked in (that’s a lie we ate first, because food is life.) Using a GPS to guide us we made our way to what was essentially Narnia without the grand wardrobe as its doors.

The drive down from Edmonton was a good 3 to 4 hours which left us only the afternoon for productivity. Considering our hectic wedding shenanigans and a tiring ride down we decided to begin with the Miette Hot Springs.

The drive up to the springs are just as scenic as you’d expect but if I bragged about this now I wouldn’t have anything to say about the rest of the trip. Surronded by the Fiddle Valley River the pools are tempered down so they are suitable for us to be in but still hot enough to feel nature working its magic. What’s best about this place is the 5 star hotel feel with the mountains as the window view (except without the window and in open air.) It was wonderfully relaxing, rejuvenating and the drive back to the Inn put us all to sleep. 

The next day we were fresh and ready for another scenic ride around and about the mountains. The thing about the Rockies is that it’s just too vast of a place for you to travel on foot (unless you’re trained and it’s your mission) so we travelled around by car naturally stopping at the destinations of our choices. On our second day we visited the Patricia, Pyramid and Medicine Lakes. 

 Medicine Lake

Patricia Lake

Another thing to be noted is that the beauty of these lakes cannot really be compared to one another because they are all so very different.

We briefly visited the Maligne Canyons. Although it was a short hike it felt like something from Alice in Wonderland with its stunning waterfalls. There were quite a few of them too..

Maligne Canyon

Side note: By this time I think my brothers all had mosquito bites covering their arms, I personally didn’t even know that Canada would have mosquitos but so far the journey had treated me well or as I liked to think of it I had “sour blood” which they didn’t really go for.

The next day was supposed to be a short hike around the Valley of Five Lakes. I say supposed to because, had we taken the shorter route we would’ve gotten to see all of 5 of them. As you’ve probably gathered, that didn’t happen. Instead we took the long route and the long route took even longer than the estimated time purely because we had old people in our group. So we hiked it up 10 km until we finally saw the most beautiful lake we had ever seen in our lives, (with different shades of blue as we walked down beside it -it was totally worth the walk) only to take the shortcut route on the way down and skip the remaining 4 lakes. So maybe it wasn’t the most clever thing we had done all week as tourists but in the end we got a lovely walk, some amazing pictures and a very good night’s rest.

Valley of Five Lakes – Lake 1

We had wasted a lot of that day but we still had time to squeeze one more thing in, as tourists like to do, so we visited the Angel Glacier that had yet another 45mins hike with a stunning view. Here I attempted and failed at taking some creative pictures and copied billions of people before me by building a little rock tower of my own. Despite how tired we were, the walk up Mount Edith Cavell didn’t phase us at all. Our spirits were still high.

Angel Glacier

My Rock Sculpture at Angel Galcier

Mount Edith Cavell Walk

Now we moved over into the Banff territory where we visited the Columbian Icefield or Athabasca Glacier. We stayed in a hotel in the heart of the mountains which had a spectacular view at the breakfast table…(it’s a shame I didn’t take a picture of it.)

The Icefield on the other hand was a crazy, once in a lifetime experience. After more obvious mountainous sightseeing, we took a ride in the huge mountain trucks and drank fresh stream water from the Glacier itself. There really are no words to describe this place as it was truly something special, so a picture can only suffice but even that would not do it justice.

Athabasca Glacier (Columbian Icefield)

Then we walked the famous Skywalk – the cliché glass bridge hanging over the cliffs – which was both breathtaking and a bit boring. I was blown away by the view of the glaciers and how far high up we were but it may have been the gloomy weather that put me off and suddenly it all looked too familiar and unsurprising. It was fun for the very short time that it lasted I don’t think I would do it again unless in winter with the mountains covered in snow.

We rolled onto the next day. The last day. The most rewarding of all I would say. We visited two of the most popular lakes, Lake Moraine and Lake Louise (popular for good reason) and then we rode in gondolas that took us to the Lake Louise Summit. The pictures of these places say more about them then I would be able to but I’d say the highlight was being able to see a bear. The restaurant at the gondola site was a big cosy complete wooden structure. We sat here for snacks and to our surprise a bear could be seen in the distance. Yes ok, it was in the distance but we could see it clearly through the telescope and that was good enough for us. Finally our Canadian adventure was complete. 

Lake Louise

Lake Moraine

View from Lake Louise Summit

Although it didn’t seem like we did a lot, it definitely felt like we made the most of it and we enjoyed every second of it. Whether or not you choose the same destinations I can still assure you the journey will be well worth the trip.

Side note: Funny that as soon as the adventure ended mosquito bites suddenly appeared on my face, my hands and feet. Although I’ve experienced the pain before, it has never been this bad or this itchy. If they scar I guess they could be a memory of the Canadian Rockies? I’m definitely not enjoying it right now though. Ah how nostalgia works…

Awkward Dance Moves, Mosquito Bites and Stunning Views… (Part 1)

The updated version of WordPress displays “share your story here” in the text box and it’s so inviting – especially when you have a story to tell. I haven’t shared a story for quite a while now and although I tell people I’m a creative writer, I do absolutely nothing all summer to prove it. I’m stuck in my head all day and most of the time I’m too busy enjoying myself to care enough about writing it down. It’s always been my “live in the moment” philosophy I live by which threw most of my artistic potential down the drain and slowly I feel it doing the same with my writing.

But here I am, sitting in Canada amongst a bantering bunch of oldies (who are related to me of course) and I’ve managed to muster up by some magical force, a will to share my adventures again, despite the obvious lack in readership. Atleast I can say I’ve practiced.

Usually the typical tourist destination tends to be Toronto but we (my family and I) were excited when our relative sent us an invite to his wedding that was to be in Edmonton. Ofcourse the wisest thing to do is to make a holiday out of it. Edmonton- a small city in Alberta that I had never even heard of before turned out to be the most fun family-gathering memory i’ll keep for years to come. 

Edmonton is generally quite plain, there isn’t much to see apart from the huge mall that encompasses one of the largest indoor water parks. It would be a good two day mall trip for those who love shopping and the incredible selection of food provides a perfect spot to dine in. For me however, the trip to the mall was only enjoyable for the first hour or so, after that I was easily bored so, let’s move on from that.

On unfamiliar territory, having familiar faces makes everything more bearable and meeting long distance relatives after a long time makes it all the more exciting. So, we stayed in the same hotel, taking up most of the ground and some of the second floor (because us Asian families are huge) and even those relatives we (I) never knew existed seemed like they had known us all our lives – they probably did, I just didn’t know them. 

The five days we spent there were too short for our liking. The first included the introductions of the families and the formal invitations between close ones to the wedding – this was hella awkward at first. We young ones (I am considered young yay) sat in a line as we were almost interrogated in an attempt to ice break. When the rest of our family finally arrived the scene loosened up a bit and by the end of the night it was all kind of chill. 

The second day was a henna party for the groom’s family (that’s us) – which pretty much speaks for itself. Girls and women gathering around and applying henna on one another. It was a night of catching up with one another, full of laughter and just genuinely nostalgic Kodak moments. Then the crazy began…
Late nights every night are to be expected when you’re gathering with your clique and it was like that for us. Sharing hilarious videos, playing both the sensible and the stupid games and lying on each others beds not bothered to go to our own. Naturally this left us looking like zombies the morning afters but still ever ready for more fun.

The third day was the first official wedding function in which the bride’s and groom’s family celebrate together. This was called the ‘Sangeet’. The first one I had ever been to of its kind and an experience I won’t ever forget. The day consists of three different traditional wedding events followed by speeches from the couple’s friends and entertainment to finish. Like I said already this was my first time going to this, let alone the fact that a tomboy girl was forced to wear something so uncomfortably not her that night the night was even more over whelming. At first. The clothes weren’t as bad as I made them sound and soon the whole function seemed to be something I could deal with (for one night only.) It was full of loud music, something I was used to from my experience at university and there were embarrassing, emotional, good, and cheesy speeches -with no names mentioned- but it was over all quite enlightening. (To see how brave everyone was for getting up there to speak because I sure as hell would not have liked to do that.) Then after a dance performance by the sais (bride’s friends) the night came to end… Not. Suddenly I saw everyone I knew and didn’t know alike in a whole new light as the dance floor lit up. There are some things I keep for myself and my close friends, dancing is one of them, but seeing everyone having so much fun I couldn’t help but join in and get others to join in too. I’m hopeless at dancing but I was shocked to see that there were actually people who were worse than me -not that I’m really qualified to judge such a sport- so it made it all the more funny. There was this one guy, who I cannot fail to mention because of his sheer awkwardness, who closed his eyes and danced like a crab low on the floor and had everyone stop for a moment to take in the movie moment. A moment that very quickly turned into the brunt of our jokes  probably even in the years to come (in a nostalgic sort of way.)

The next day was the wedding day but it certainly didn’t feel like it as we headed to the (dreaded) mall again for a game of bowling (which never even happened.) We ended up chilling in the arcade or “rec room” as they call it doing absolutely nothing really, literally lingering. Still it was all worth it because as soon as we were back the tensions were arisen and the realisation of the final two days settled in. We still made the most of them, making sure to spend each moment smiling but as much as it was fun it was still sad that everyone had to leave once it was all over.
When that day came however, we could still be glad that we had the Rockies to discover and that was a whole other story altogether…

Day 7 – Falling in Love

Awaking earlier than 7:00 is possibly one of the hardest things we have had to endure throughout this trip. We thought we’d get a break on the last day but there is no mercy for travellers like us.

It was however, totally worth it and it being the last day it was either all in or out. We went all in.

At 7:30 we left the hotel to make our way for Kabataş from where we would hop on a ferry to Büyükada (largest of the prince’s islands).
An hour and a half long journey which took us pass the different islands and gave a beautiful view of Istanbul in the horizon. There were the typical ferry vendors who would come around selling bread which passengers would buy, eat half and feed the seagulls in the air with the other half. It was a calming and enjoyable boat ride.

The Islands are notoriously known for the absence of motor vehicles so the only way to travel is on foot, by bike or in a horse carriage. Having walked so much for the week we thought it’d be best to choose something else. Riding in the horse carriages seemed fun but it seemed like there wouldn’t be much to do apart from sit, take pictures and enjoy the ride… So bike riding it was.

The prices were either per hour or for the whole day so we decided to go with an hour as there were many other things to do on the Island. An hour though, very quickly turned into 2. Especially because it was all uphill. It was torturously painful but in a good way. As if you were refreshing your soul. Some parts were too steep even for the best of us so we would get off and walk our bikes up but even then it felt good.

After our long, exhausting bike ride to the top of the island’s hill, not only were our minds and body energised but the view was live too. Beautiful landscapes of hills and the tiny villages scattered around. It was all worth it. This is when we realised we didn’t want to leave. We had fallen in love with all that Istanbul had to offer and there was still so much more to explore…

Our ride back down wasn’t so bad either. Fast with a nice breeze to cool us off. Finishing our ride we then walked around looking for a beach, the best way to relax after such a high intensity excersise. We had heard there was a small one nearby so we set off to find it but it turned out the beach that we were familiar with did not exsist. Instead in its place was a small rocky pier like place in which people went into the ocean. Although a bit disappointed, much to our delight the water was cold, clean and a nice remedy for our aching feet so we ended up staying for the rest of our day there.

The ferry ride back had us all sleepy and relaxed but as it was our last night we knew that sleep was for the weak. Back to Taksim square it was for our last dinner,last shop and inevitably our last night in Istanbul.

Day 5 & 6 – The Grand, Grand Bazaar

Oh what a glorious day it was for the people who love to shop. A whole 2 days dedicated for just that. I’m not at all fond of shopping and it was much of a nightmare being in a country that requires you to haggle when it comes to shopping. Luckily for me I had friends who had very quickly mastered this art and I would just lazily ask them to bargain for me but usually they weren’t too successful when it came to what I wanted so I had to master it myself.

Before our great venture we headed to view the famous Galata Tower from which you can have 360° view of Istanbul from high up on the balcony of the top floor. The wind as expected, is strong at the top but the view is mesmerizing – although at 25 Lirah the price definitely could’ve been better as this stopped a lot of people from wanting to go in- another downside is that the tower has been refurbished to offer elevators that take you straight up to the top floor and while this is convenient for most it’s quite a let down for those (me) who want to be heroic and climb to the top. We were already tired by the time we were out of Galata Tower, but then again we were always tired because of lack of sleep.

We travelled by underground and then tram to reach the Grand Bazaar where the shopping began before we even entered. On the other hand I could only think of food so our group was forced to eat lunch before we started our real journey. A long painful but satisfying journey through the intermingling streets of Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is unique compared to anything else I have experienced. It’s named a bazaar but it is civilised shopping, indoors and on nice floors. It consists of approximately 66 streets and 1 toilet which is cleaned regularly. I feel like it is the westfield of Istanbul but I can’t really say it is, since I haven’t been to a great deal of other bazaars. The beauty of bazaars is that it sells a majority of traditional based products which is the best kind for tourists like us and just like any other shopping centre that isn’t in Europe, the shop owners try hard to get you to set foot in their shop. Usually through flirting (mainly if you are a girl) and sometimes casual conversation that makes you a friend first making you obliged to have a look at what they have to offer. The one thing I really love about foreign shopping are all the colours. Rainbows of colours fill each aisle and you’re never bored of anything to look at. Which brings me on to day 6: The Spice Bazaar.

Spice bazaar was really just a “bonus” to our day as we began by going to yet another palace and then looking at the biggest cistern in the country. The cistern was huge and once again amazing like everything else we’ve done. But we were so tired from the additional walking that when we went to Spice Bazaar we weren’t really in the mood for some serious haggling and struggling. The prices in Spice Bazaar were also significantly more expensive and the employees were significantly more stubborn when it came to bargaining. It was a nightmare – We were told at one point to “Please get out of here” because the employee didn’t like the thought of lowering the price. After finishing up at the Spice Bazaar we finally went back to the hotel and wanted to finish our shopping at the Taksim. The one place we had so frequently visited that the people knew us all too well. Well and then it was time to prepare for our last day in Turkey…

Day 4 – Tourist level 100%

For the first time in my life I can honestly say that I remember a bit of history. I may not remember my own countries history but atleast I know something.

Today our group was able to complete a tour of all the main touristic attractions in one day with enough time to spare for a much needed refreshing relax time before dinner. Every traveller’s dream. We looked at the notorious Blue Mosque known locally as Sultanahmet, The Ayasofya, The Hippodrome and let’s not forget the unforgettable Topkapi Palace.

Each and every place we went to held its own significant attraction of architecture, culture, history and we were able to get a real sense of the Turkish traditions. This obviously meant more walking but this was only a minor flaw in our amazing day.

For the sake of keeping my posts short as they are simply a type of diary entry, I won’t go into the specifics of the history behind each place we visited. Besides if I were to do that, there would be no reason for you to visit. No. That’s a lie, you would obviously visit anyway to feel the beautiful culture for yourself.

Our tour guide was exceptional. He explained as much as he could from as far back as he could and with as much detail as possible. Although, he was old and I felt slightly bad that he spent his day guiding a bunch of students around but there was no lack of enthusiasm. He kept us going all day and to all the places we visited we were sure to learn somethinf beneficial to us and if not then atleast one thing interesting.

The day ended much quicker than we expected but we were told that from tomorrow the driver would not be available and so our remaining few days would be areal adventure on trams, buses, taxis etc. The first on the list is Grand Bazaar. Here we come.