Wanderlist Wednesdays

Places to visit before they disappear.

Have you ever planned a trip or visited a place and had the thought “I wonder if this place will still be here for the next generation to see?”. I recently watched a documentary on the Maldives called the The Island President and realized that we really should be thinking about this. To those who travel, take notice – you might want to add these places to your sooner rather than later travel list.

Of course the bigger message here has to be global warming. While much of the damage has already been done, I refuse to believe we are too late to change our world. Let’s not let these gems fade away.

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Some Weekend Reading

A Little Poetry for the Grateful.

Growing up I was always fascinated by poetry. I loved to read it and I even dabbled in writing some from time to time. Today I came across a poem that really struck me. Following an afternoon getting the house holiday ready, I realized how fortunate I am and how grateful I am for all of the good things I have in my life.

Jarvis+Captain Xmas Edition

It’s getting festive at my house! Even Jarvis and The Captain are in the holiday spirit.

While this realization does cross my mind at least a few times everyday, the feeling can be fleeting.  Busy lives, work and other obligations can easily get in the way.  So I thought I would take a moment to really honour this feeling, to let it soak in, and to share it with you.

Life Owes Me Nothing

Life owes me nothing. Let the years
Bring clouds or azure, joy or tears;
—Already a full cup I’ve quaffed;
—Already wept and loved and laughed,
And seen, in ever-endless ways,
New beauties overwhelm the days.

Life owes me nought. No pain that waits
Can steal the wealth from memory’s gates;
—No aftermath of anguish slow
—Can quench the soul fire’s early glow.
I breathe, exulting, each new breath,
Embracing Life, ignoring Death.

Life owes me nothing. One clear morn
Is boon enough for being born;
—And be it ninety years or ten,
—No need for me to question when.
While Life is mine, I’ll find it good,
And greet each hour with gratitude.

– Anonymous

Do you have a favorite of the moment poem? I would love to hear your comments.

The (Christmas) Magic of Prague.

It will be December tomorrow and that means the holiday season will be in full swing. I always feel a bit nostalgic this time of year, maybe it’s because for me winter signifies the end of something. The end of summer and the beginning of my least favorite season. But I do love the holidays.  Christmas makes me happy. And today, as I was putting up the Christmas lights at home and thinking about the tree and all of the decorations I’ll be putting up next week, I started to think about a the fantastic Christmas Markets in that take place in Europe at this time of year, and one that I attended in Prague specifically.

It was late November, a number of years back and I was visiting Prague for four days. The weather was cool and overcast, yet there was a magical light that spread over the city. Everyday I spent in Prague there always seemed to be this magical light.

Magic skies in Prague

Magical skies in Prague, Czech Republic.

Wandering around this breathtaking city one night, my friend and I stumbled upon a Christmas Market in Old Town Square.  This was my first European Christmas Market experience and I was in love. We wandered from one vendor stall to the next, checking out the goods; beer steins, knitted wares, holiday ornaments and wood crafts. The sound of Christmas carolers and the aroma of mulled wine and pastries filled the air. It was an unforgettable holiday experience.

Prague itself is one of those unforgettable cities.  It’s a city full of history and culture. From the Romanesque era to World War II, it’s past is full of triumph and great sadness. Here are some of my highlights – recommendations for you, should you ever have a chance to visit:

Prague Castle and the St. Vitus Cathedral

  • A 9th century castle that is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. This large complex (in fact this is the largest ancient castle in the world) features the beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral. Spend some time inside this cathedral; the light reflecting through the massive stained glass windows will take your breath away. The castle complex is situated on a hill overlooking the city; the views alone make this trek worthwhile.
St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague.

View from the Prague Castle

View from the Prague Castle.

Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and Charles Square

  •  These are the three main public squares in the centre of Prague. A great place to wander, eat lunch, shop and check out some of the historical sites. The Astrological Clock in Old Town Square is worth a look, and if you are there during the holiday season, be sure to check out a Christmas Market. A square named after Saint Wenceslas does bring a certain Christmas song to mind after all.
Astrological Clock, Prague.

Astrological Clock, Old Town Square, Prague.

The Old New Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery

  • The oldest active synagogue in Europe; converted to a church for a time, then back to a synagogue, is a smaller, more humble structure than St. Vitus, but one that is worth checking out. Nearby you’ll find the Old Jewish Cemetery; dating back to the 15th century, this is the final resting place of nearly 100,000 individuals. You can easily spend a few hours here in the city’s Jewish Quarter.

The Charles Bridge

  • Walk along the historic Charles Bridge. This is a great place to people watch, as it’s often lined with vendors, tourists, students and locals.
View from the Charles Bridge

View of the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral from the Charles Bridge.

The Mucha Museum

  • Art Nouveau genius and famous Czech artist Alphonse Mucha’s work is on display in this small, but comprehensive museum. Visiting this spot will only take an hour or so out of your day, but it will be it will be an hour well spent.

Whether it’s the holiday season, or the heat of summer, Prague is a European city that is not to be missed. It is without a doubt one of the most visually stunning cities I have ever visited.

What to read?

For Context.

My Czech Republic website: Prague History.

While recollecting my trip to Prague and the historical sites I saw while I was there, I stumbled across this website.  It’s a great source of “quick facts” and a good starter for those who are visiting the city and are looking for a bit of background. With this in mind, I do appreciate that the site provides a recommended reading list for those who are looking for more in-depth context.

For Fun.

The Trial by Franz Kafka.

OK, time for another classic.  Born in Prague, Kafka is well known today for his dark and often paranoid stories, one of the most famous being The Trial. The book opens with an allegation – a man named Joseph K. has been arrested one morning without having done anything wrong. The book weaves the tail of Joseph K. fighting for his innocence, with various characters (some on his side, many who are not) making an appearance along the way.   The city of Prague is a character in this book as well, with many of the book’s most crucial meetings taking place at historical locations around the city. The Trial is an unsettling novel, but sometimes it’s good to feel a little unsettled, isn’t it?

Wanderlist Wednesdays

Jordan

I have had a number of opportunities to visit the Middle East on work-related trips. I’ve been to The United Arab Emirates, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi about five times, to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on one occasion, and I even took a day trip to the desert of Oman on one of my rare days off. However, there is one place that I’ve always wanted to go, but haven’t yet had the chance.

Petra, Jordan.

Petra Jordan

Al Khazneh (The Treasury) at Petra, Jordan

Photo: “Jordan_Petra” by Ivar Gullord, CC by 2.0

I love history. Classic and ancient history specifically has always fascinated me. Petra is at the top of my wanderlust list when it comes to historical sites. Perhaps it’s the remote location, or the architecture that is both astounding, as well as subtle in the way it integrates with the landscape around it. Perhaps it has something to do with Indiana Jones – my favorite film series as a child.  After all, nothing beats the Last Crusade, where Petra plays a significant role in the film’s conclusion. I think somewhere deep down I still want to be an archeologist, thanks to “Indy”.

Whatever it is – this is a place I need to see.

Is there a historical site that tops your travel list? I’d love to hear about your wanderlust list in the comments!

Some Weekend Reading

Non-Fiction for a change.

candles

Some atmosphere for Sunday reading. I think I have a candle addiction.

Sunday night, the perfect time to relax at home after a busy weekend. I feel tired, in that content and fulfilled sort of way. I pick up my book – a non-fiction this time, and another book club pick.

The book is Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. It’s a story about a girl in her late twenties, her name is Susannah (the author of this book) and she’s a writer at the New York Post. Her life is fast-paced and exciting – just what every twenty-something hopes for. Except one day, out of nowhere, she starts to get these strange symptoms; numbness, dizziness, extreme highs and low lows, and a feeling of other-worldliness – as though she is above herself looking at her life from afar. Then she experiences a scary seizure and after countless trips to the neurologist, she eventually ends up in the hospital. No one can seem to figure out what the issue is, as all brain scans and blood tests come back clear.

This book feels a bit too close to home for me at times. Just this past year I experienced some similar issues – headaches, dizziness, severe vertigo, numbness is my fingers, and the scariest of them all, temporary loss of vision and speech. After CT scans, blood-work, ultrasounds, an MRI, and a referral a hospital Stroke Clinic, seven months later my neurologist diagnosed my symptoms as migraine with aura. This was a HUGE relief – though annoying to deal with, it’s something I certainly CAN deal with and medicate as needed.

I’m only half way through Brain on Fire and after weeks in the hospital, Susannah is getting progressively worse with no diagnosis in sight. Close to home perhaps, but also an important reminder of how lucky I am to be where I am now, and to be healthy.

Have you every read a non-fiction book that ran parallel to a certain experience or situation you were facing in your life at the time? Do you seek out non-fiction books that you can relate to? Or would you rather read about someone with a life-experience that is the opposite of yours? I would love to hear your comments on this.

An Introduction to India.

India – one of the largest countries in the world, in both land size and population. Last year I had a chance to visit this amazing country for a week-long work trip that took me from New Delhi, to Bangalore to Mumbai. Well brief in nature, this trip introduced me to three of the largest cities in India; it was shocking and intense, warm and colourful, fascinating and disheartening all at once.

As is often the case with work travel, this trip was filled with multiple flights, countless hotel check-ins, long days and sometimes longer nights. Left with little time to actually explore the cities themselves, I was only able to uncover a tiny fraction of understanding in each of the places I stayed. It was enough, however, to open my eyes to the many fascinating qualities of this country. Here are a few thoughts and observations that defined my time in India.

Traffic and chaos.

What I experienced in Delhi (to the locals it’s simply Delhi) was unlike anything I’ve seen before. It seems like no rules apply when driving here. Yet there are rules, the most prominent one I discovered being the use of your vehicle’s horn. I have never heard so much honking in my life! At first I thought, wow, people must be really angry drivers (an observation based on our use of horns in North America), but in India the horn is simply a means of communication to say “I’m here”, “I’m passing you”, “I’m turning” – pretty well every move a car makes is communicated via horn. Staying in your lane is not common practice, in fact on many roads there are no lanes. Common sights along your drive may include cows ambling along the road (considered sacred in India, they are given free-reign of the country), Rickshaws – tiny open-air vehicles that weave in and out of traffic hurriedly carrying a passenger or two, and scooters or motorbikes often carrying a whole family – babies included, helmets not included.

Side streets of New Delhi

Side streets of Delhi, with a parked Rickshaw.

History and culture.

This country has both in abundance. From ancient times, to the medieval era, from early modernization to current day India, there is so much history here. Driving around Delhi, past the grand Delhi parliament complex, over to India Gate, a grand war monument in the middle of the city, provided a quick glimpse into some of the city’s historical sites. A visit to Dilli Haat, one of the best markets I’ve ever visited, is a great introduction to India’s culture. Checking out the artisan stalls, you see examples of handicrafts and artwork from across the country with an emphasis on painting and embroideries from Northern India. While here I purchased and incredible painting that now hangs in my dining room at home – it’s my most treasured travel purchase to date.

India Gate New Delhi

India Gate, New Delhi

Dilli Haat New Delhi

Market shopping at Dilli Haat, New Delhi

Heading south from Delhi to Bangalore (Bengaluru), one can notice that this city feels different. Not only does Bangalore have more of a tropical feel, they city seems more modern in some ways. The technology capital of India, with an emerging emphasis on education and industry, it’s a city that is experiencing population growth and boasts one of the strongest economies in India.

Bangalore

View from my hotel, Bangalore

Mumbai (still largely referred to as Bombay) is the largest city in India. A sprawling city that lies on the coast of the Arabian Sea, Mumbai is the home of Bollywood – the institution that has introduced Indian culture to the world through music, films and television.  It has a younger, more dynamic feel than Delhi – its a city where many young working professionals live, work and play.

Poverty.

In all that was wonderful about my visit to this country, I cannot write this blog entry without commenting on the social disparity. It was unlike anything I have seen before. I think what struck me most deeply was the juxtaposition of lavish wealth and astounding poverty. Flying into Mumbai the vastness of the slums is overwhelming. From the sky this is almost all you see. Tin rooftops, crumbling structures, garbage and dirt. It seems to go on forever. Down the street from my Mumbai hotel (set in one of the richest areas of the city) was the Dharavi slum – one of the largest slums in the world. Every day wealthy locals drive past this slum to their comfortable jobs, and back to their luxurious homes. It’s a reality I cannot imagine. What’s even more unbelievable to me is the emerging tourism market that promotes and conducts “slum tourism”. Turning poverty into entertainment, Westerners can take a tour and gawk at the locals. Human curiosity aside, this is something I will never understand.

Warmth and hospitality.

A common observation across this large country was the warmth and hospitality of the people. In the interactions I had with students and families, I always felt welcomed. There was vibrancy and a sense of pride I saw in all those I connected with.  Food also serves to bring people together in India, as it does in many cultures around the world.  To comment on the food in India, and the variations across this vast country, would be another blog entry completely.  Let’s just say it is really, really, really good.

Sunset in Mumbai

Sunset in Mumbai

India is a country of many extremes. It’s not an easy place to travel, and not a place I would recommend for those who are new to the travel game. But it’s a place that left me with a lasting impression; one that I have yet to experience anywhere else.

What to read?

For Context.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

OK, so technically this is a work of fiction. It is, however, loosely based on India’s transition from British colonialism to independence. It also provides a social commentary on the cultural differences across the country. A controversial book in India (Rushdie was sued by India’s Prime Minister in 1984 and asked to remove a sentence that she felt directly defamed her and her family), Midnight’s Children was positively received in Western countries, winning the Booker Prize in 1981. Well not a history book, it is an entertaining story that offers some insight on growing up in India during a rapidly changing era.

For Fun.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

When I first read this book back in 2004, I was overwhelmed by the story. Reading it again more recently left me with a similar sensation – this is a book that will hold up over time. It’s a story of knowledge, of disparity, of courage and personal triumph. “Pi”, a boy from Southern India, sets out on a quest for spirituality and later finds himself stranded alone on a lifeboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. His only companions are animals, he shares his escape with a ferocious tiger and he must reconcile his fears in order to survive. Martel, a Canadian author, is an amazing storyteller. This is a highly emotional book that will excite your imagination. In my opinion, it’s a must read for all.

Wanderlist Wednesdays

Vietnam

When it comes to Asia, there are so many places to explore.  I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Southeast Asia on a number of occasions but I have yet to make my way to Vietnam.

From bustling cities, to stunning beaches, from amazing food to thrill seeking opportunities, Vietnam is definitely on my list.

Speaking of thrill seeking – check out this video of beautiful Hạ Long Bay by Lonely Planet (one of my favorite travel guides). Looks like a blast!  Except for maybe those jellyfish – yikes!

OK, so I might have a somewhat irrational fear of jellies – but they can really ruin a good day at the beach.

 

Three days in Nice.

I love France. After years of traveling, Paris is still my favorite city. I’ll get to that another day; today my blog is going to focus on Nice. Why? Well because Nice is really nice. OK, I know, too cheesy. But it is, it’s beautiful, it’s charming, it’s sunny and warm most of the year, what’s not to love?

Old Town, Nice

Old Town, Nice, France

A number of years ago I had the chance to visit Nice with a friend as part of an aforementioned European backpacking trip we took after university (see my post on London for another stop on this trip). We spent three days in the city, following some time in Barcelona and on our way to Italy. While three days hardly seems like enough time to see this city, we made the most of our days and took time to take in the sights.

Nice is a quieter city, especially when you are comparing it to Paris, Barcelona, Lisbon or Madrid, where we had already spent some time. It feels like a vacation town to some extent, and given that we were visiting in mid-October, the city was certainly much quieter than it would have been during peak holiday season. We were thankful for this as we sat on the beach for a morning with only a handful of other people hanging about.

Here are some highlights and recommendations.

Check out the beach. This might seem like a given, but just in case I’ll put it first. The beaches in nice are quite unique in that they are not sandy, but stone beaches. The beaches are covered in smooth, flat stones or pebbles (“gallets”). It was a bit too cold to swim when we were there, but still worth it to spend a morning sitting in the sun with some baguette, cheese and fruit.

Nice, France

The stone beaches of Nice, France

Walk around the city. If you have read my other posts, you know by now that this is my favorite activity, and in my view, the best way to get to know a city. Spend your time in old town and the central shopping areas. You’ll likely stumble across some lovely markets with flowers, produce and homemade goods. The Cours Saleya is perhaps the largest of the markets and on Monday’s features a wide selection of antiques as well. You’ll also see some lovely monuments and historic buildings scattered throughout old town and along the waterfront.

Cemetery Colline du Château

Cemetery Colline du Château

Visit the Cemetery Colline du Château. This is something else I always find interesting about visiting a historic city; walking around a cemetery. OK, so this might sound morbid, but if you have ever seen a cemetery in France (the most famous is perhaps the Père-Lachaise in Paris), or in other parts of Europe, or Central/South America, you’ll know what I mean. This cemetery was full of stunning sculpture, raised tombstones and elaborate engravings. On top of that, the view of the city from this sight is breathtaking. Be sure to check out the nearby Roman ruins as well.

view from the Cemetery Colline du Château

View of Nice, from the Cemetery Colline du Château

Visit one (or both) of these museums: Musee Chagall and Musee Matisse. I must admit, we missed these, as on our planned day to visit we found both the museums were closed. As an admirer of both of these artists I was very disappointed. Sometimes timing doesn’t always work out, but hey, the way I see it – I’ll just have to go back.

Take a day and head over to Monaco. You can catch a public transit bus from Nice to Monaco; it’ll cost a couple of Euros and take you about 45 minutes. You won’t even notice the time as you’ll be too busy taking in the view of the coastline along the way. You can spend your time in Monaco wandering around, perhaps visiting the casino, and if you have the funds, doing some high end shopping. Not worth more than a day’s visit in my opinion, but still interesting to this tiny principality and the high end lifestyle of it’s wealthy residents.

Monaco

Monaco

All in all, Nice is a great place to spend a few days. This city offers a different view or France than what you will get in Paris. A little laid back? Perhaps. Catering to the wealthy tourist? In many ways yes. But with all the charm (not to mention the food and the wine!) that the French are famous for.

What to read?

For Context.

The Rise and Rise of the Cotes d’Azur by Jim Ring

More than just Nice, this book offers a glimpse into the history of this popular region of France. Highlighting the creative minds that flocked to the region in the past, and the celebrities that still do to this day, Ring offers a detailed account of how Nice and neighboring cities (such as Cannes) have developed over time from the introduction of rail, to the influx of English tourism.

For Fun.

Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

Ah, Hemingway. In my mind he’s one of the most prolific writers and most engaging storytellers of all time. This is a lesser-known novel, one that he worked on for more than 15 years, but was not published until long after his death. It tells a story of young love, newlyweds who set off on a trip to Spain and wind up spending weeks in the south of France. Their daily activities include swimming naked in the ocean, drinking cocktails, writing, shopping, drinking wine, eating French food, and then repeating. For weeks. Pretty idealistic, right? While Hemingway’s writing may make you want to quit your job, hop on a plane and do the same, rest assured, the story gets complicated when the introduction of a new young women brings trouble in Paradise. Passionate and at times strange, if you are lover of Hemingway, you’ll want to check this one out.