Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018...what an adventurous year!

2018 was another epic year of adventure for me...due to circumstances it was all in the first half of the year!  I had ten days in between my return from London in May and my eleven day tour to Newfoundland in early June.  Except for a week away in the fall to see Paul McCartney in two concerts (of course!) in Winnipeg (definitely a place on my "to do" list as it had been too long and when I heard he was to be in that city I KNEW I had to be there) and  Edmonton (a consolation "prize" for being not being able to afford a trip to the UK for Paul's Xmas concerts) I've been home for over six months. Six months!  I must confess I did have the post-trip blues this summer...nothing serious but it is hard to adjust to life at home when you have been on the road for five months.  While it was wonderful seeing friends again and getting into somewhat of a routine I missed the magic of having adventures most days.  So I am just going to write as ideas come to my head....I will list ten experiences from my trip that pop into my head and they will be in no particular order.  

1)  Seeing puffins "fairly" up close in Newfoundland in June. 

I love puffins!  The best place to see them in Newfoundland is at a lookout in Elliston.  No bobbing about on a boat in the water like I did in Iceland - just have a decent lens on your camera or even better binoculars and there they are, just across from you.  What a thrill!  They nest here from May until late September; returning to the sea for the rest of the year.  Elliston has the closest land viewing of puffins in North America.  

The scenery wasn't bad either - lots of "doo doo" covered rocks but that's okay.  

2)  My time in Budapest Hungary in early April.  

I really loved that city and can see me returning for a week or so, preferably in the I can wander the museums and sip hot chocolate in coffee shops, shoot moody black and white photos and even better...try out one of the many warm mineral baths every day!  

Beautiful St Mathias church

Shoes on the Danube...a sculpture dedicated to the thousands of Hungarians (mostly Jewish) who were assassinated by fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross militants.  They were ordered to take off their shoes, were shot and their bodies fell into the Danube.  Horrific. 

A classic view of Budapest...taken from the grounds of Buda Castle with the Hungarian Parliament Building on prominent display. 

View from Pest across to Buda Castle with the endearing Little Princess sculpture. (looks more like a jester to me).   Directly behind her are tram tracks. 

3)  My week in Fort Kochi, India in early March 

After my fun but exhausting tour of Sri Lanka  I needed some downtime.  I had anticipated this so had booked 8 days at a small homestay in the charming little enclave of Fort Kochi in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It is just what I needed.  I absolutely loved wandering the streets, popping into cafes, walking along the seafront and watching the fishermen operate the Chinese fishing nets.  I got to be such a familiar figure that at least one rickshaw driver would yell "hey, Canada" when I walked by!  It is someplace that I definitely hope to return to. As a solo female I felt totally safe however I would be a bit cautious wandering around certain areas at night . 

A Chinese fishing net

You can buy these and get a nearby restaurant to cook it for you - maybe next time! 

I walked down this street a lot! 

And yes, I befriended the local doggies...providing them with water.  The local shopkeepers feed them so they tended to turn their nose up at (most of) my offerings but they never said no to some cold water. 

For a typical day for me in Fort Kochi click here

4) A week in May in the beautiful Lake District 

I think this is now my favourite part of England now...okay, except for London.  Then again there is just so much to see in England and it's so beautiful it's hard to pick a favourite. 

I stayed in a bed and breakfast in Ambleside and it was a perfect base.  I took day trips to explore more of the areas that are difficult to see with public transport, attended a picnic in Peter Rabbit country and had a delightful walk in the Grasmere area.  And so much more!  And guess what?  I'm going back next year!!!  

Heading over the Wrynose Pass 

The broody Wastwater in the Western Lake District 

Rydal Water near Grasmere

Castlerigg Stone Circle

5)  A gathering of elephants in Sri Lanka in February

I was lucky enough to be in Sri Lanka AND in the right area to see a gathering of elephants in Kaudalla National Park.  This happens only once a year when the elephants migrate for fresh vegetation.  I have seen African elephants in the wild in Kenya but I have never seen so many elephants in one place before.  Something I will never forget - well as long as I have all my marbles that is. 

Windblown and less than flattering photo but I was in heaven!!!  

For a post on this day click here.

6)  Hiking the Skerwink Trail in Newfoundland in June 

This is a trail I had heard about forever but never thought I would get the chance to do it.  But I did -with a little help from my friends.  Despite the windy overcast weather, it was still incredibly beautiful and I am so happy I did it.  I've written a post about it. 

 7) My week on the Isle of Wight in late April/early May

Beautiful beaches, excellent public transport, cream teas galore, more thatched cottages than you could shake a stick at and donkeys!    I absolutely loved my week on the Isle of Wight and wish I could have stayed there longer.  Ah well, there is always next time! 

Thatched cottages in the gorgeous (very touristy) village of Godshill

Chocolate cream tea....heaven for this chocoholic 

Osborne House, summer home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - it was amazing and I would definitely go back again. I still need to write a post on this place! 

The beach at Sandown

8) Having my base in London.....

Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about London.  One day I will write a post about "London and me".  I fell in love with the city when I was just 22 and while sometimes the crowds (damn tourists!) get to me I know I will always love it.  It's been such a privilege to be able to visit so often (this last trip was number 27) and see the changes that have happened since my first visit in 1975.  I am fortunate to have a wonderful place to stay in Streatham  (South West London) with a fabulous host who is now a dear friend.  I just discovered this year that my great-grandparents were married in Streatham at a church near  my second home - how cool is that?  

The Horseguards are always fun to see.  I love the fact you can be bopping around central London and hear a "clop, clop, clop" and sure enough there they are prancing by.  

Spring in St James's Park - St James's Park IS London to me.  Everytime I go to London I have to go there and I think to myself (or sometimes scarily - even say it to myself out loud when I am alone)  "Now I am in London". 

On a Thames side beach.  Nobody swims here though!  

 I love the mix of old and new buildings in London. 

9)  My time on the island of Guernsey in late March 

I had been to the Channel Island of Jersey twice before but never to Guernsey.  I decided to change that so spent six days on the island.  While the weather could have been better I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and wouldn't be adverse to revisiting - especially along with a third visit to its rival island Jersey. 

Looking back towards the main town on the island; St Peter Port 

Torteval Church - and sheep! 

One of Guernsey's wonderful beaches....

It's time to fire off the cannon at Cornet Castle in St Peter Port 

10)  Standing under frolicking polar bears at the Journey to Churchill exhibit in Winnipeg 

Seeing polar bears in the wild is still on the bucket list.  For now, seeing orphan polar bears happily playing with each other (and watching seal TV...the seal exhibit is next door with a glass wall in between) will suit me just fine.  

There was so much more....Barcelona, seeing the Terracotta warriors in Liverpool, my walks along the Thames Path...I loved it all.  I am so glad I did all this traveling.  I've made sacrifices, live fairly frugally and don't have a lot of what most people my age have - but to me it's been totally worth it to have the freedom and resources to travel the world.  I am hoping for many more years like this. 

Now I can't wait for 2019!  

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Four days in Krakow - Day One

After arriving at the Keleti train station in Budapest for my overnight train  I had some spare time so wandered over to the Starbucks across the road for a coffee. Yeah, I know, probably not the smartest thing to do before an overnight train journey but I knew I wouldn't get a good night's sleep anyway.  I just can't sleep in moving vehicles of any kind.  Before I knew it, it was time to head back to the station and board my train...

Why did I take an overnight train? (something I asked myself at more than one point during the journey)  I didn't want to waste a day traveling and it also saved me the cost of a room which is something you seriously take into consideration when you travel for four and a half months.  The fare was 49 Euros which I thought was really reasonable for a ten-hour train trip.  

The conductor showed me to my couchette which I was very excited about...not so much when he told me there would be one more person joining me.  They keep the room-mate to the same sex of course...a.shame that!  (kidding! I think...)  

Anyway here is a picture of my little couchette... not bad...

I am not sure what berth I was assigned to but I grabbed that lower one.  There were three berths right on top of one another...the top one was folded up. (this is important)  Looking at my ticket it says the number one so I assume that would be the bottom one.  It had a little sink and a small cupboard to put your jacket in.  The toilet was down the hall.  Hey, for one night I could handle this.  

I settled in and pulled down the bench by the window and read for a bit before turning in.  There were two locks on the door that looked complicated so I just used one...this is important....and as we know I tend to lock myself into places.  The berth was comfortable enough but the train jerked and bumped along the tracks and was very noisy.  Let's just say it was definitely not one of Europe's finest fleet and leave it at that.  About six hours into my journey I was joined by a young woman who got on in Bratislava.  She walked into the room without saying a word and gave me the filthiest look - hmmm...guess she wanted the room to herself or else unwittingly I had grabbed the wrong berth... I greeted her and she grunted at me.  I told her she could put her coat in the cupboard and she loudly stated "I know"  Okay let's just call her Ms Snotty.   I politely asked where she was going and she replied with a name I had never heard of so I didn't dare ask exactly where that was.  Anyway Ms. Snotty proceeded to climb up to the second berth and pull down the top berth - trying to get as much distance as she could from me?   I tentatively said I don't think anyone is taking the middle berth - the conductor told me just one person will be joining me.  Well Ms Snotty gave me a look that could kill.  Talk about intimidation....I was the stupid foreigner (and let's be honest here...she probably thought I was American...) and she was the local who obviously had taken this train numerous times.  Maybe she had had a bad day...or she was just a bitch. (I go for the latter)  So we both settled in - me terrified to fall asleep in case I started snoring and she murdered me in my sleep. (I wouldn't have put it past her)  And of course, Warsaw was the final stop for this train so I was terrified of somehow falling asleep and missing my stop.  I needn't have worried on that account as there was a knock on the door with the conductor announcing my stop.  I quickly got my things together and went to open the door only to find she had double locked it.  SHIT!  I tried both locks but still was not getting out - and let's remember I had been dozing and my head was not functioning at its full capacity (which is dicey even at full throttle).  I was panicking thinking "oh shit, I am going to have wake that bitch up and she IS going to kill me this time"  Finally I was able to figure it out (turn both locks the same way...duh...but now you know if you are ever on an overnight East European train) and dragged my stuff out the door and as I left she woke up startled with her eye mask on and trust me she looked a right sight- and yes, as I walked out the door I stuck my tongue out at her.

I had booked an Airbnb but at 7 a.m. it was much too early to check in.  Poland uses the zloty for currency and I had none.  My first attempt at the ATM in the railway station did not work but luckily I was able to use my credit card to buy a coffee and pastry in a coffee shop in the station.  I wasn't able to check into my room until the afternoon so I had to get rid of my I wandered a bit and found another ATM.  Holding my breath I tried again and whew....out spilled the required local currency.  As every experienced traveler knows you need to notify your bank of your whereabouts to use your debit/ATM card and I had done so.  Some banks however just won't accept your card and I always seem to use those first which always makes me panic a bit.  Anyway now with some cash I was able to leave my suitcase and daypack in the storage area and head off to explore Krakow.  

Because I am someone who likes to know what I am doing I followed my host's instructions and walked over to my Airbnb just to know what I was doing before hauling my luggage over.  It was about a ten-minute walk from the station.  Then I headed in the direction of what I hoped was the Rynek Glowny (market square). Eventually, I found it and I liked what I saw. 

I found this sculpture intriguing - meet Eros Bendato the work of Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj. 

This is the fabulous Cloth Hall which dates back to the Renaissance.  The ground floor is now used as a market (markets usually excite me but this one didn't) but apparently Royalty is still received on the second floor. 

I loved the colourful buildings in Maly Rynek (Little Market Square) 

While some of the city walls are intact you can tell where they once were by the park and path that encircles the Old Town - this was once the location of the moat that surrounded the town.   You will see more of this - I walked the entire route during my stay.  As you can see there were lots of benches to rest and it was just a delightful place to be in the early Spring. 

Rather than check into my place (which was self check-in) and leave again I decided to stay out and then go back, settle in and CRASH.   As I noted in my journal I was happy to be on my own as the amount of times I had to sit down due to tiredness was crazy...I was just really tired.  At this point I had been traveling for three months plus of course had not much sleep the night before.  I just needed to rest.  Rather than stress myself out sightseeing I happily sat on benches people watching for about half an  hour before carrying on to the next bench!.  I had a light meal at a cafe along the path. 

My Airbnb host had recommended this to me and while I can't remember what I ate (I didn't take a picture...scandalous, I know!) it was good.  

I wandered some more around the central area - I thought this was a pretty little church but no clue what the name was.  

Above is the Barbican - one of the entrances to the Old Town.  Tourist land!!  

Here is the Adam Mickiewicz monument - one of the most famous statues in Poland.  Who was Adam Mickiewicz you might ask?  He was one of Poland's most famous poets - the irony?  He never actually visited Krakow!  This statue was constructed in 1955 - the original statue constructed in 1898 was destroyed by the Germans in World War II.  This is a popular meeting spot for locals. 

By this time (late afternoon) I was starting to fade...and fade fast.  I headed back to the apartment which was located on a fairly busy street.  Okay this is the outside.  I know...don't panic was fine inside.  There are many buildings like this in Europe...I had just come from one in Budapest that looked like hell from the outside but was beautiful inside.  

My room was behind the window on the left.  The reviews were good but there were complaints of hearing the trams roar by at night.  No problem - I wore earplugs and slept like a log.  The apartment had three bedrooms and I had one of them which was quite large.  The room was clean but nondescript so didn't even bother taking a photo.  We all shared one bathroom which was no problem as the people in the other rooms came in later than me and slept in so our schedules never clashed.  I never did meet my host Anna but I must say she provided more information for me than any other Airbnb host I have had. (and I've had a lot!)  I was able to use her washing machine to do a quick load of laundry.  As long as I have a clean room, a comfortable bed and good wifi I am happy!  

I settled in, unpacked the clothes I would wear during these four days, pulled up the apartment's wifi on my phone and checked what was going on in the world and read for a bit before turning off the light and settling into a deep sleep. 

And that was day one!  I was going to combine days but that would make this post way too long!!!   Stay tuned for day two coming up very soon!  

Another great big adventure coming right up! (2019 version)

Yes, it's time to hit the road again for my annual multi-month adventure.  This time I will be away just less than three months. I don&...