March 8, 2015

Giving free travel talks—A great way to share the knowledge and ignite others’ travel dreams

As travelers, we often find ourselves talking to friends and strangers alike at parties, at work, wherever, about travel and how to do it right. We evangelize for travel, extolling its opportunities and benefits. We often go on at length about the magic of our favorite places, the addictive high that comes from filling up a passport book, and the thrill of crossing a new border and making new connections. We also find ourselves giving out advice on all matters travel, from where to find the cheapest airline tickets to where to stay and when to go. You know you do this.

But normally it’s one-on-one counseling, spreading the gospel of good travel one conversation at a time. In almost any social situation I would meet many would-be travelers are looking for a better option than shelling out a fortune to join a big-bus corporate tour with an itinerary geared toward hitting the owner’s favorite tourist traps. I was always stuck by people’s desire for useful tips for shaping their own experience and, more importantly, the need for an infusion of “Hey, I can do this!” confidence.

After thousands of private conversations, I also realized that the most efficient way to share what I knew with those who were interested was to teach.

Next week at a local Seattle-area library I’ll be giving the first of several ninety-minute “Travel Talks” I plan to give this year. The seminar-style presentations, which I call “Traveling The Best of Europe Independently & On A Budget” will be free, presented at assorted libraries in the Seattle metro area.

This marks the tenth year I’ve been doing them, having originally started in my hometown of Chicago. I tackle the question about how to travel independently in Europe (since that happens to be my specialty), how to plan it, and what to do when you’re there.

I wish more experienced travelers, wherever in the world they happen to hang their rucksack, would occasionally give up a Saturday afternoon to teach these sorts of classes. Not only is there a deep need for the info but there’s plenty of reward in it for the speaker. Some have asked why I bother doing these talks when it’s basically giving me time and advice for free. My answer: Sharing my hard-won tips on budgeting, itinerary-crafting, and other how-to essentials is a joy. Many of the people who attend these classes have an ideal trip in their minds and have had it for most of their life, but have lacked the skills or confidence to go on their own. And seeing their eyes light up when they realize they can take control of their own travel dreams and plan their own adventure is profoundly rewarding.

Moreover, it’s a public service. More than just the mere nuts-and-bolts information of planning a trip on a tight budget, arming curious people with the info and inspiration to broaden their horizons is a good thing for them and for their country. They will likely return from their adventure with not only experiences they will cherish, but a better perspective on their world as well.

So, if you’re inclined to spread your knowledge and love of whatever destination you adore, please consider offering a ninety-minute “how to travel independently & on a budget to…” presentation at a local library or school. Any guidebook will have a chapter on the basics, but it’s a presenter’s confidence and palpable love for the subject that can inspire someone to finally book that plane ticket. Let them learn from your trial-and-error. Impart your wisdom and fill the room with your enthusiasm for the amazing places you’re talking about. You might just motivate a wannabe adventurer to take the trip of their dreams and change their life, and that is time well spent. Go forth and spread the gospel.

 

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Category: Adventure Travel, Expat Life, General, Notes from the collective travel mind, Solo Travel, Vagabonding Advice, Youth Travel

February 28, 2015

Why Robben Island is well worth the visit!

Capetown, in the Republic of South Africa, is a beautiful city. Filled with natural beauty, a booming waterfront and access to all things penguin, Capetown quickly draws you in. Whether you’re looking to hike Table Mountain, shop at local markets, cavort with Boulder Beach’s penguin colonies or take in a history lesson of Africa’s Apartheid, Capetown is a special city.

Not everything about travel is happy. Those who have visited concentration camps in Europe, walked through gravesites of Cambodian genocide or listened to survivor’s stories after some of history’s most gruesome atrocities know first hand that travel often yields tears, rips off rose-coloured glasses and forces its visitors to see the world through different eyes. Robben Island is well worth the visit. For anyone into world schooling or choosing other alternative educational strategies, this visit is one for the history books.

Remnants of South Africa’s checkered past are palpable throughout many parts of the country. In the mid-twentieth century, South Africa was ripe with Apartheid. Backed by earlier beliefs of racism, Apartheid’s practices made segregation, law. Apartheid forcibly separated people while providing those in power with a platform to punish those vehemently opposed to it. Nelson Mandela had been active in civil actions, protests and movements from his youth. Later, he became a campaign leader and spokesperson for a civil disobedience campaign against injustice, persecution and racism. He was imprisoned on Robben Island for his actions and beliefs, yet, in 1994, became the Republic of South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

A day on Robben Island is rather telling of the times of Apartheid. Although not uplifting, it’s an experience necessary to continue to share the story and teachings of South Africa’s history to be sure it is not again repeated. Depending on the season, it’s best to make a booking ahead of time. The ferry from the Nelson Mandela terminal at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront takes guests out to the island. After watching a short twenty-five minute video, guests disembark and board awaiting busses. “Driven by freedom’ and ‘We’re on this journey together’ cover the sides of the vehicles already denoting the positive energy, determination and struggle guests are about to see.

Originally designed as a Leper Colony, the island was used to house political prisoners of the anti-Apartheid movement over a period of time in South Africa’s history. Narrating as the bus moves, a guide describes the houses and buildings of those who helped to start the anti-government movement, such as Robert Sebukwe. The era’s injustices are palpable. Focusing on the narrator’s words, the passengers quietly focus as the bus traverses the seaside coastline of this island that housed pain, struggle, strength, wisdom and endless fortitude. Exiting the bus after the forty-five minute journey, guests are laughed at since they actually paid for an opportunity to be ‘sent to prison’. Although understandable, it is quite ironic.

Former political prisoners are guides for the walking portion of the tour. My guide was Glen. Having been housed in Robben Island, his sentence was cut short at the official end of Apartheid. Through struggle and triumph, Glen chose to return to the island after he was released. He and his family are today part of the one hundred-person community still living on the island. Regaling us with stories of his life and what prisoners were forced to do, we followed him throughout the prison. It wasn’t easy. In front of us was Mandela’s tiny cell. We even took a trip to the lime quarry where Mandela and others were forced to work for long hours over the course of many days. While using one infinitesimal cave for learning, teaching, shade and bathroom purposes, they struggled through the tragic times.

As we walked, we felt them right beside us. This is one of those solemn places to stop and take a look around. Here, staring inhumanity in the face, they prevailed. Here we learn from history and continue to share their stories with others to remember, to endure and to continue their work. Here where others saw strife, Mandela saw triumph. Here where others saw detainment, Mandela saw vision and a chance to teach. Here, where others saw despair, Mandela saw hope.

As there was often discussion taking place in the prison, Mandela renamed it, the ‘university’. We learned how prisoners got news, which was or wasn’t allowed to meet with a priest and about Mandela’s garden. Mandela’s garden was his sacred spot. Buried deep in the ground was Mandela’s manuscript. Piece by piece, through hollowed out heels in shoes and sliced pages in photo albums, courageous individuals risked inhumane punishment to bring Mandela’s message to the world. Bold choices and great risks were taken by many – all daring to dream for a brighter future and a more equal South Africa. Mandela’s strength is a lesson to us all.

Robben Island is definitely worth the visit. With its natural surrounding beauty, history of all kinds and struggle for people’s rights, Capetown’s Robben Island is a lesson in just one visit. Exuding indomitable spirit, perseverance, dedication to a cause and conviction beyond measure, Mandela continues to teach all visitors through his continued journey.

For more of Stacey’s musings of life and travel, check out her website.

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

February 14, 2015

Easy Day Trips from Melbourne, Australia

Welcome to Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia has become my second home. Known for its café culture, four seasons in a day and city of all things sport, this special place has a lot to offer. In the city, there’s the hubbub of business, culture, life, eateries, endless laneways and riverfront activities. Just a short tram ride away gets you the seaside feel of the Docklands, Chapel Street’s boutique shopping and the drool-worthy dessert shop delights of St. Kilda’s Ackland Street. However, there’s a world of adventure beyond Melbourne’s CBD. In only a short amount of time, all sorts of modes of transport take you to exciting destinations around Victoria. Within a day you can dip your toes in the sand of beautiful beaches, explore the Great Ocean Road, eat fish and chips near the Little Penguins of Phillip Island or get up close and personal with native wildlife at Healesville Sanctuary. Be it beach or adventure, koala cuddles or penguin kisses, seaside retreats or gold mining treasures, restaurants or road trips or all of the above- Melbourne’s surrounds have you covered.

Hike and Discover

sovereign hill, ballaratAdventures await in Melbourne. A short trip by train or two-hour journey by car finds you in Ballarat. Sovereign Hill, Ballarat’s interactive outdoor museum appeals to visitors of all ages. Pan for gold, dip a candle, visit the blacksmith and spend your day reliving the city’s gold rush period. There are underground tours, hands-on experiences and a gem museum that adds extra sparkle to the trip. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Mt. Dandenong. Less than an hour’s car ride outside of the city sit quaint mountain towns, hiking trails, fresh mountain air and artistry unlike any other. You can hike up the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk’s thousand steps to happily earn sweet treats in one of the many adorable cafes. Areas of Sassafrass and Olinda are filled with cafes (my favourite: Miss Marple’s Tea Room) lolly shops, toy shops, tea shops and more that delight your fancy.

william rickets sanctuary-Dandenongs, MelbourneArtists, dreamers, believers, creatives and naturalists can wile away the hours at the William Rickets Sanctuary. Meander through the trees to find incredible carvings and artistry all made by one man. Revering native Aboriginal culture and believing strongly in the lives, stories and message of its people, William Rickets creates unimaginable artwork through tree sculpting. Both the poetry and design exude the magic, trust, wonder, reverence and beauty that is nature.

 

Journey to the Seaside

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road

Melbourne’s Yarra River flows through the center of the city. Festivals, fireworks and fun happen along the water daily. Searching for a greater view, that specific scent, picturesque coastline, sailboat sightings or just an expedition all your own-Melbourne has that, too. A quick ferry ride away lies the charming seaside town of Williamstown. With its laid back vibe, quaint boutiques, quirky cafes and ice cream shoppes, Williamstown offers a perfect retreat from the buzz of the city. Explorers for a day or a week can experience the rush of life alongside the Great Ocean Road. Deliriously daunting cliffside views halt drivers in their tracks, forcing a stop, look and photo session at each of its thousand twists and turns. Go for a day, stay for a night or ride all the way to Adelaide-no matter the distance, the Great Ocean Road doesn’t disappoint. Gorgeous beaches line the roadside as seaside towns invite you to taste their splendid fish and chips or take part in their endless outdoor activities.

Live the Beach LifeBeach life-Sorrento, Mornington Penninsula, Melbourne

If you’re visiting and missing the roar of the ocean, Melbourne’s beaches are for you. Whichever direction you choose to head, there are waves just waiting to wash over wiggling, happy sand-laden toes. Visit Portsea and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula to take in the main streets of the towns while hiking down to local beaches to watch surfers find the sweet spots on the many waves. Want a fun train trip and colourful backdrop to stunning white capped waves, hit Brighton for the day where the iconic Beach Boxes are just as much the draw as the sun and the sea. Looking to add a little wildlife adventure to your day on the sand? Take the two-hour drive to Phillip Island to experience the fish and chips, endless scenic views and the Little Penguin Parade. Channel your inner penguin as you wait patiently for some of the world’s cutest creatures to pop out of the water at dusk and waddle their way past your camera lens and back to their burrows for their evening slumber.

Nature, Wildlife, Wine and Cheese

feeding the kangaroos-Healesville Sanctuary, MelbourneWhether you’re in it for the wine, cheese, or kangaroo cuddles, the Yarra Valley is for you. Filled with lush eye-catching scenery, wineries by the dozen and cafes galore, this bucolic area lies a short distance from the hustle and bustle of one of Australia’s busy cities. If you’re interested in getting up close and personal to native wildlife, spend a day at Healesville Sanctuary. This interactive nature sanctuary is home to heaps of Australian wildlife. Whether you fancy feeding a wallaby, chatting with a kangaroo, counting the quills of an echidna or just relishing time spent with the friendly animals; a day at Healesville will put a smile on the faces of guests both young and old.

For more of Stacey’s musings visit her website.

 

 

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Category: General, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Quote of the Day

January 31, 2015

Explode your comfort zone…why the decision to travel is never a bad one

Growing up in Long Island, New York, my comfort zone was very small. I certainly never thought I’d leave that tiny suburban town for other coasts or other shores. After that first trip abroad everything changed. I had no idea then that harnessing fear of the unknown would be the thing that actually facilitated a growth spurt for my ever so tiny comfort zone. Little by little it started to grow and although, at times the fear tries to blur the lines, the desire of that comfort zone to stretch continues to win out. Almost twenty years after I graduated from a small university outside of Boston, I’m actively exploding that zone wide open and travel, for me, has been the blasting tool.

Even with strife and destruction happening daily in the world, I’ve yet to ever find a reason why the decision to travel could be a bad one. Day after day there’s sadness and devastation with people who aim to do evil striking at the heart of good. I’m not suggesting to directly put oneself in the line of fire or to go where those in the know say to heed, but travel will always open doors, help to defy stereotypes and change the world one traveler at a time.

Travel continues to provide endless gifts of perspective, growth, understanding and compassion. Comfort zones are great, but as we all know, minimal growth happens in them. Learning happens each time those boundaries are pushed and with even the slightest bit of movement, people are forever changed. Have you ever traveled by yourself and noticed those fears creeping in when what would be an adventure with a friend feels like disaster waiting to happen? Have you ever muttered the words ‘I’d never do this at home’ with a smile knowing that some sort of magic is about to happen even though you have no idea what, where or when? Have you ever found yourself wandering down a foreign land’s street filled with insane chaos, maddening sounds, bustling crowds, endless odors thinking just how different this is to your ‘normal Tuesday’ and how utterly amazing it is that you’re enjoying yourself as much as you are? We continue to surprise ourselves, if only we let ourselves.

Strange as it may sound – boundaries are pushed and comfort zones are meant to expand. As we grow, we learn of what we’re capable, what scares us and what, just maybe, we might want to push through. It’s the feeling of that little one finally letting go of a few fingers when she learns to cross the street or shouting, ‘let go, let go’ when he tries to take off on that first two-wheeler ride. Parents stand proudly by watching as that fine line swarms around them wondering, ‘do I run after him to keep hold or let him see what he can do on his own’. Now, we’re those grown up little ones guarding our choices and teetering on the edge of can I or can’t I, will I or won’t I and pushing ourselves to take that risk knowing that we’ll be alright whatever the outcome. Each leap really is one of leaps and bounds.

Travel has been the force propelling me forward. That desire to see the world, visit other destinations, meet new people, experience and wonder has frightened me, pushed me, amazed me and changed me. It gave me direction when I had little. It showed me paths that I would have never before taken. It introduced me to impactful people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. It showed me that different isn’t bad, difficult is worth the struggle and that change shouldn’t only scare me. I owe a debt to travel and the best way I know to repay it is to keep on going and thanking travel each day for helping me to explode that comfort zone.

Things I never thought I could…and did!

Live overseas

Jump into the edge of Victoria Falls

Travel solo

Go on an around the world honeymoon

Make my way through a language barrier

Walk with lions

Road trip across the USA

Quit my job to travel

How do you explode your comfort zone? How did a travel experience push your boundaries?

For more of Stacey’s travel musings, check out her blog.

 

 

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Category: General, Notes from the collective travel mind, Vagabonding Advice

December 14, 2014

Traditional Christmas in Europe

Of the many things Europe does well, it’s the continent’s magnificent Christmas festivities that can charm this cynical traveler every time. From Scotland to Switzerland an extraordinary spirit of festivity, connecting this generations to others long since passed, can be felt in the wintertime air. The traditions of the season are still strong in this thoroughly modern part of the world, where bustling Christmas markets fill the main square of big cities and bucolic, half-timbered villages alike. In the cathedrals, choirs singing the great medieval Christmas hymns fill the cavernous spaces with angelic harmonies, their melodies carried to the rafters on frosty puffs of breath.

One of the most interesting aspects of Europe is the subtle variations to each country’s celebratory traditions. I find them fascinating. Here’s a sampling of those variations from three different cultures: The German, French and English traditions.

Germany, despite being a progressive powerhouse not known for sentimentality, is actually one of the most magical places to experience the season. Old traditions die hard and Germany reaches far into its medieval past to embrace and celebrate the season. From the Bavaria to the Baltic, from the Black Forrest to Berlin, its people break out the gingerbread recipes, the carols, and the colors of the season.

Christmas in Munich

Christmas in Munich

Performances of the Nutcracker are to be found in theatres across the country, while well-built manger scenes adorn the cobbled public spaces of both the Catholic South and Protestant North.

Sprawling Christkindle Markets fill the squares of communities across the country, bursting with music and food and seasonal décor. Traditional favorites such as gingerbread and sweet prune-and-fig candies are served at stalls under a kaleidoscope of Christmas colors. It’s not unusual for a small chorus to be serenading bundled-up shoppers and sightseers with classic Germanic carols.

But the singing of carols is especially beloved and ingrained in the Christmastime traditions of England. In fact, they’ve been a staple of the holiday in England since at least the sixteenth century, as many of the country’s Christmas traditions are. The great cathedrals of Salisbury, Westminster, etc. hold spellbinding choral events by candlelight and colorful outdoor Christmas markets buzz with activity.

Do you like your Christmas tree? Thank England, where the tradition of the Christmas tree originated. The custom originated when pagan-era Druids decorated their places of worship with evergreen trees in the dead of winter, which to them represented life that could not be extinguished despite the cold and the dark. The later Christians appreciated this symbolism, as it reminded them of Christ’s promise of eternal life, and adopted the custom.

The holiday dishes are of course a pivotal aspect of any celebration, and the diversity in food served on the big day is one of the widely most varying customs of Europe’s Christmas celebration. In England the regulars like turkey and veggies are served, but desert is the real treat: The all-important Christmas pudding, a fruity desert usually made with figs and brandy, and mincemeat pies, both fixtures since the sixteenth century.

Another particularly English tradition also includes the wearing of a colorful paper crown—everyone is a king or queen at Christmas. Needless to say there is tea involved on this wintry day as well, often at 6pm on Christmas to warm the soul.

France revels in its ancient cultural traditions as it celebrates the Noel with that classically French combination of style and joy. Gift giving is less emphasized than gathering and celebrating simple rituals with family and friends—and sharing a fine meal with good wine, of course.

Paris, the City of Light, celebrates in a less ostentatious way than big US cities, but its neighborhoods often host popular Christmas markets that are as festive as any.

Notre Dame at Christmas

Notre Dame at Christmas

In the countryside, where the culture of any people really resides and thrives, the traditions are stronger and richer. The warm tones of local choirs singing medieval carols can be heard emanating from candle-lit, thirteenth-century churches. Many families will attend the midnight Mass and return home to enjoy le réveillon, or the “wake-up!” meal.

And that meal is fantastic. Being France, the food is an integral part of the celebration—in fact it’s the culinary high point of the year for many. Delicacies like foie gras, oysters and escargots are popular aperitifs, while the entrée tends to be more straight-forward dishes like goose (popular in Alsace) and turkey (more popular in Burgundy). Meat (including ham and duck) is paired with a good red wine and served with the ever-popular chestnut stuffing, a French favorite for generations. Chubby truffles are another beloved feature of most dinners.

While the use of the actual Yule log has diminished somewhat, the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the buche de Noel. It’s a sugary delight of chocolate and chestnuts.

After the Mass and le réveillon, the children put their shoes in front of the fireplace hoping that Pere Noel (Father Christmas) will fill them with candy, nuts, fruit and gifts. As the kids drift off to sleep, the adults sit up late, hang goodies from the tree and polish off the Yule log. Before they turn in for the night, a softly burning candle is are left on the table in case the Virgin Mary passes by, a long-standing custom of this Catholic country.

 

 

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Category: Europe, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Field Reports

December 13, 2014

Being vegetarian on the road

VEGGIE BURGER AT GRILL'D (AUSTRALIA)Always travel with snacks. Eat local. Taste the street food. Try the cuisine specific to this culture. Have you ever had something so delicious? These are all things travelers hear when heading to a new destination. But for me, some places are harder while others make my taste buds soar with delight. I’ve been a vegetarian for just under ten years now. There have, as in everything in life, been ups and downs and easy and hard spots, but all in all I feel better. As a traveler, there’s a huge draw to eating local and checking out the cuisine of places. We travel with snacks, of course, but can’t wait to dive into local cuisine. Some places have been easier than others to be a vegetarian. We’ve traveled to those vegetarian friendly and others heavy on the carnivore delights and have found some more manageable and enjoyable than others.

IN MY TRAVEL EXPERIENCE AS A VEGETARIAN…

Easiest country to be a vegetarianINDIA

Even my meat-loving husband went vegetarian for a time while on our India holiday. We even got to share dishes. Almost every restaurant we went to had an entire section of the menu dedicated to vegetarian cuisine. Nowhere was it ‘just have a side dish’ or ‘can you tell me what the base of that sauce is, please?’ Here there was even street food available for me to enjoy the same as anyone who is a meat eater and perhaps…even more. Samosas, pakoras, chapatti, naan and flavourful dishes filled with spice mixtures and colourful sauces adorned my plate and tickled my palate. This is the land of vegetarians…all are welcome!

Favourite place to be a vegetarianAUSTRALIA

I love this country! In a land of all things close to water, the land down under is veg-friendly. Where you’d never find me eating sushi in a mall in New York, I can’t wait for my Sushi Sushi fix shortly after landing at Tullamarine airport in Melbourne. At most food courts there are vegetarian friendly choices with pumpkin or aubergine and for those pescaterians, smoked salmon abounds. Tandoori vegetarian pie at Pie Face, the garden goodness burger at Grill’d or the fabulous fries at vegan Lord of the Fries only scratch the surface of available options. It’s fresh and easy….she’ll be right!

Hardest country to be a vegetarian: EGYPT

Incredible sights, unbelievable artifacts, amazing culture but not such great vegetarian friendly cuisine. In a land where travelers must stay away from fresh vegetables and many others are fried, Egypt wasn’t the easiest place I’ve found to be a vegetarian. Although falafel and hummus are available, it’s definitely harder to find variety or non-fried options. I can say that between French fries, falafel, bread, noodles and eggs, I was content for the trip.

Most surprising place to find a fabulous vegetarian restaurant: BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

Argentina is steak territory! My husband was in carnivore heaven the entire time with one piece of meat larger and tastier than the next. In search of a restaurant that could cater more to me for a meal, we found one that won’t soon be forgotten. Bio, a vegan/vegetarian restaurant was so good that it not only satisfied my vegetarian taste buds with a quinoa risotto, but the lactose intolerant friend and two carnivore husbands were thrilled with their dishes.

As anyone with dietary restrictions or food allergies knows, being out of a food comfort zone isn’t as easy as being in one. Check the base of soups and sauces, ask your questions, have your questions written out in the local dialect and source out as many suggestions and reviews as you like on the web. Remember, you can always find a grocery store to pick up things you know you can eat and as an extra back up plan…always travel with snacks!

For more of Stacey’s travel musings, check out her blog.

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Category: General, Notes from the collective travel mind

November 16, 2014

Veterans Day and Historic Military Sites

Veterans’ Day in the US and the UK is replete with ceremonies (concerts and parades in the US, red poppies in the UK) to commemorate those who served their country in uniform. Aside from a great opportunity to thank those that fought in foreign lands, it’s a great opportunity to remember some of the historic sites that can give testament to the events they witnessed.

While some sites are now little more than quiet fields that have been reclaimed by nature, many places can still pack an educational punch that leaves the visitor still give the visitor a sense of the enormity and ruthlessness of war.

Here are a couple of my recent favorites:

Duxford Airbase and Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England

Revered as a major Royal Air Force (RAF) base during the legendary “Battle of Britain”, RAF Duxford also boasts an Imperial War Museum. With more than 200 historic aircraft ranging from rickety World War I biplanes to the B-17 Flying Fortress to the SR-71 Blackbird, the collection is arguably the finest in Europe. Also on display is part of the Imperial War Museum’s vast trove of historic photographs, uniforms and documents.

RAF Duxford exhibits

RAF Duxford exhibits

RAF Duxford, situated in bucolic countryside outside Cambridge, was founded during World War I but earned its place in history during the darkest days of World War II. In preparation for his planned invasion of Britain, Hitler launched the full might of the Luftwaffe at England’s factories and cities in 1940.

The bombs killed indiscriminately. His aim was as psychological as it was practical; he sought to terrorize the population and break Britain’s will to fight. It fell to the undermanned RAF to defend the homeland.

As the sector station for Fighter Command’s No. 12 Group, Duxford Air Base was in the thick of the battle. Casualties were immense. The pilots who fought in the Battle were enshrined in lore as “The Few”.

Historic air show at RAF Duxford

Historic air show at RAF Duxford

In June 1944 the planes launched from the same runways would protect the Allied fleet as it steamed toward Normandy. It would also gain fame as one of the homes of the fighter escorts for the Allied bombers that pulverized Nazi Germany’s industrial might.

RAF Duxford continued as a fighter station after the war and was decommissioned in the 1970’s. With over thirty authentic buildings recognized by the British government for their historical significance, the base was granted to the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in 1976 and has been a world-class center of exhibits and education ever since.

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Mulberry Harbors and Museum, Arromanches, France

The tiny French coastal town of Arromanches, perched on the sands of Normandy, holds another of my favorite war sites. Not far from the immaculate rows of gleaming marble headstones of the US cemetery at Omaha Beach, the beach village had its fate permanently altered when it was chosen to be the main port of the Allies.

One of the most vexing logistical challenges for D-Day planners was the issue of transferring the move millions of pounds of Allied soldiers, vehicles, weapons, and supplies from ship to shore once the troops had established a beachhead. At Churchill’s order, engineers were set to the monumental task of constructing giant ports nicknamed “Mulberry Harbors”, designed to accomplish the feat.

Remains of Mulberry Harbor, Arromanches, Normandy

Remains of Mulberry Harbor, Arromanches, Normandy

Before the blood had washed away from the Normandy sand, the ports were unloaded from ships and attached by brave engineers under enemy fire. While bullets still flew the ports were operational and offloading tons of materiel per hour for the final push against Hitler’s Riech.

Today, a very well done museum perches above the coast and describes the incredible engineering task undertaken to build the ports. It gives even a layman like me a good idea of how this was pulled off, and of the massive challenges (storms, waves, German gunfire) that the Mulberry builders had to contend with.

Remains of Mulberry Harbor, Arromanches, Normandy

Remains of Mulberry Harbor, Arromanches, Normandy

But this isn’t the most moving part of the area; the really evocative sights are sitting just off the coast and demand no entrance fee. Still visible in the surf are the ghostly hulks of the prefabricated ports themselves. The skeletal iron beasts, now rusted and worn away by decades of tide and salt water, serve as a silent reminder of the world-changing event that came to Normandy’s shores. And they remind us of the ordinary people—most now passed away—who found themselves swept up in the gale force of history.

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Category: Europe, Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Travel Writing

November 1, 2014

When is it ever ‘the right time’?

Blyde River Canyon, South Africa“Last night while I lay thinking here, some WHAT IFS crawled inside my ear and pranced and partied all night long and sang their same old WHAT IF song: WHAT IF I’m dumb in school? WHAT IF they’ve closed the swimming pool? WHAT IF I get beat up? WHAT IF there’s poison in my cup? WHAT IF I start to cry? WHAT IF I get sick and die? WHAT IF I flunk that test? WHAT IF green hair grows on my chest? WHAT IF nobody likes me? WHAT IF a bolt of lightning strikes me? WHAT IF I don’t grow talle? WHAT IF my head starts getting smaller? WHAT IF the fish won’t bite? WHAT IF the wind tears up my kite? WHAT IF they start a war? WHAT IF my parents get divorced? WHAT IF the bus is late? WHAT IF my teeth don’t grow in straight? WHAT IF I tear my pants? WHAT IF I never learn to dance?

Everything seems well, and then the nighttime WHAT IFS strike again!”

                                             –Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

My sister and I read this poem over and over again when we were little. Although at the time we felt it acknowledged some of the fears with which an eight and twelve year old might struggle, it seems to have a greater meaning than at first I thought. What if we don’t have enough money? What if we get rid of the apartment? What if we can’t find a storage unit? What if, what if, what if? No matter the age or stage in life, the ‘What Ifs’ have a way of striking. How do you quiet the whispers?

We’ve thought about and heard it all before-when is the right time to have kids, to get married, to change jobs? Seems most of us don’t have an exact date or time and often, the best answer is – ‘it’s never the right time’. The minute you buy a house, you’re offered a job transfer in a new city that you can’t pass up. Wait to take that much-desired journey to a far off land and there’s bound to be a travel warning to the exact place you planned on going. Trying to know when the ‘right’ time is to make that life change is never easy. Do you cannonball into the deep end or wade with trepidation at the top step in the shallow part of the pool? How on earth are any of us supposed to know when the time is just right?

After countless hours of negotiation with the voices both inside and out of my head, I can honestly say I have no idea when the time is right. But, I do think that when it is at the closest level of right for you, you’ll know. One of my best friends jumps into life. When she wanted to try life on a new coast it took her less than a day to make the decision. When that coast didn’t work out and an overseas offer arrived, she was gone within a week. She knew the instant she met her husband and married shortly after and has tackled other life decisions with continued intensity. Me, I’m the opposite. It took me till twenty-five to finally buy the gift my parents wanted to give me at twenty-one. I cried when I went off to university and although immensely excited, struggled with the idea of moving overseas. There were things I ‘needed’ to be able to make the leap, but after leaping once, twice and a third time my comfort zone has been blown open and the needs seem less and less. Everyone has his or her own process. Sometimes you’ll know deep in your toes that it’s right and other times ‘the right choice’ apprehensively knocks on your door and it takes quite awhile to hear it, answer it and let it in.

The process, decisions and choices are yours. Although, sometimes, life makes a few of those decisions for you but for those that are left to your own accord, listen to the message the world is sharing with you and leap when you’re as close to ready as you’ll ever get. John Lennon said, ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’. Time doesn’t stand still and there are only so many do-overs in a lifetime. Find your do-over and take the plunge. Just because we don’t all openly embrace change, doesn’t mean it’s bad. When the signs of the universe finally become clear or as un-fuzzy as they can to you, do it…..the time is right.

For more of Stacey’s travel musings, check out her blog.

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Category: General, Notes from the collective travel mind

October 18, 2014

How Africa got in my soul (and stayed there)

Etosha National Park's Watering Hole

“We need HOW many shots?” Six immunizations, a signed yellow fever card and two prescriptions later we left the doctor’s office. It was going to be worth it, we just knew it! Five years and a few extra booster shots later and we were right. Our time on the African continent yields some of my most favourite travel memories and life-changing experiences. “Africa gets into your soul and stays there”. This is my answer to most questions about my time in Africa. With a smile, I remember the moments that would not have been possible anywhere else. If you’re even a bit curious-Go, you’ll never be the same again.

We’ve traveled to Africa three times and each has been more different than the time before it. There was Egypt in the north, South Africa and its surrounds in the south and Tanzania and Kenya in the east.

Egypt is filled with history, culture, religion and life on the Nile. We slept on a felucca, rode camels in the Sahara, translated hieroglyphics, awed at the pyramids and sphinx and ate our weight in falafel. Egypt’s appeal was the intertwining of religion and life amidst an ever-changing landscape. It seemed that there’s a part of Egypt ruled by the river and a separate part away from it all. Markets clamored with vendors selling their wares and religion was heard all around – most especially as the sound of the muezzin floated through the air calling worshippers to prayer. Perfumes, hookah pipes, cartouches and papyrus were readily sold to travelers as take home items and history was captured on cave walls.

Devil's Pool, Victoria Falls, ZambiaSouthern and western Africa is still my favourite of parts we’ve visited so far. We spent three weeks through parts of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Hanging with penguins at Boulder Beach, glimpsing the southernmost tip and feeling like the true king of the world atop Table Mountain are special. Bush camping in the Okavango Delta was more than memorable since a raging hippo chased our mokorros and we lived to tell the tale. And let’s not even talk about the jump into Devil’s Pool-this is truly the definition of living on the edge! My favourite beyond a shadow of a doubt was Namibia. Etosha National Park’s watering hole is Discovery Channel in living colour as silent onlookers sit for hours waiting for animals to visit for a drink. Soussevlei is a sand lover’s paradise and hiking Dune 45’s bright, brilliant sand dunes make you feel like a cherry seated atop nature’s sundae. After visiting Namibia, it’s become one of my most treasured memories.

Namibia's Dune 45

And then there’s the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Masai warriors live their lives off of the land and teach their children to do the same. Dotted through the plains you see Masai houses and schools left standing for the next group to come through as the nomads move to a new location. Dry season floods the view in colours of beige, red, brown, orange and yellow showing the effects of nature on the landscape. Pockets of bright green pop where rivers flow with life in the wet season. Dust mixed with gravel and the omnipresent red dirt kicks up as the 4x4s journey the open roads in search of sightings. As trucks pass on the narrow lanes camera lenses and binoculars pass each other as their owners pop the tops of trucks to feel the wind and come face to face with a neighboring giraffe.

Africa is different. Africa is beautiful. Africa is a blending of thousands of cultures amidst a backdrop of animals and a landscape controlled by nature. Africa leaves you wanting to return and teaches lessons you may not have known you needed to learn. Africa gets into your soul and stays there.

For more of Stacey’s travel musings check out her website.

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Category: General, Notes from the collective travel mind

September 20, 2014

Why Leap?

Why Leap?

Why Leap?

Male to Colombo to Dubai to Milan and finally landing in New York forty hours later was the route we took home from the Maldives last week. The jet lag has been palpable but we’d both say it has been worth it for the perfection we experienced in our beach bungalow island paradise for six magical days. But for most of the people we talked to, the look of disbelief in their eyes when we explained the journey home was enough to say-“no way, I’d never do that!” We’ve gotten the same response countless times with the question-‘how long is the flight from New York to Melbourne? What on earth do you do for that long?’ Travel may mean something different to everyone, but no matter the explanation, we all have our reasons for leaping.

For me, travel is a journey from start to finish. Be it a two-day jaunt or a leap of years-I find magic in every part. It’s hard to believe considering when I even mention a thought about a trip or a move; my mom get’s stressed not liking anything to do with the word travel. For me, it’s exhilarating. There’s the research, the decision, the planning, the packing and then the actual adventure. I enjoy it all, but I actually get excited when I get to the airport, hand off my bags, head through security and know that I’m on my way! Each time I wander around the airport shops like a kid in a candy store knowing something great is about to happen-the anticipation is only the start to the journey.

It’s been called a traveler’s curse, itchy feet, a vice, an escape, running away and a million other things, but for the travelers I know, it’s part of their make up. Check the genetic code and I think you’d find a travel gene as part of many of our DNA compositions. We’ll tell you that our lists continue to grow no matter how many lands our feet touch. Some count passport stamps while others regale you with tales of amazing people and incredible human-interest stories. We’ll save our pennies regularly for that unquenchable desire to spend them on an adventure. Some travel solo on a journey all their own while others go in groups and find they learn even more about themselves than they ever expected. Some seek the world’s wisdom while others have a passion for learning as much as possible through first-hand encounters different than those in which they themselves experienced in their youth.

Why do you travel? What for you is worth the leap or the risk? Does the age old adage, “if you think adventure is dangerous, try routine-it’s lethal” resonate with you? Is it to experience other cultures, food, beer and lifestyles? Do you feel a pull towards nature’s beauty or the UNESCO world heritage site list? Do you like to volunteer in other parts of the world? Is it to get outside your comfort zone or just to know that you’re one small part of a much greater world? For me, it’s a mixture of all of these things. The insatiable curiosity of learning by doing is a driving force but the act of travel encompasses so many others that it’s difficult to put into words. Like many fellow travelers, the rush of travel makes me feel alive and although it comes with risks-I believe they are far outweighed by the rewards. I breathe better when I travel. I feel better when I’m planning an adventure. I smile more when talking to others about their experiences and bantering about ideas for new exploits. I learn more about the world when I’m forced outside my comfort zone and I relish the relationships that have been fostered by these ventures. Even more so, through my travels I’ve learned more about myself and why I leap, and I’ve learned to trust that the net will, without a doubt, appear.

In the end, although I would never tell you that these past few days of waking up at 4am has been pleasant (when you’re not heading to the airport to catch another flight at least), the sunrises have been beautiful and the jet lag undoubtedly worthwhile.

Why do you leap?

To read more of Stacey’s writing check out her website.

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind
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