Monday, July 31, 2006

Cosmos Tours - Travel Tips

I have just completed my first coach tour with Cosmos. Upon some reflection, these are some things I would recommend for any future travelers.

1. Take 2 cameras. You have traveled too far and too long to be disappointed by your camera.

2. Consider your style of photography before you begin clicking. In my opinion, there are two types of photographers - landscapers and sentimentalists.

If you are the first, keep your camera on and ready to click all times. As the bus is always moving, sometimes quite rapidly, reaching for your camera and aiming as you see a sight usually means a picture taken too late!!

Sentimentalists are those who enjoy looking at pictures with people in them. If you fall in this category, don't be shy to ask someone to take your picture and more importantly, pose! I am of this category and I was shy. Looking back at the pictures now, I am already in regret mode.

As you will be seeing a lot in a day and snapping a lot of pictures, keep a journal. Write in it everyday! It is easy to miss a day and catch up is too hard! If you own a digital camera, screen your pictures each night and title them. After seeing 10 palaces, 5 madinas and several squares, they all start to look the same.

With wake up calls as early as 6:00am, you want to have had enough sleep. If you are sharing, it is sometimes hard to turn your roommate to the side when the snores are heightened. Also, if your tour director is annoying, ear plugs work wonders - TRUST ME!!

5. Sleep on the coach.
Traveling on a coach from city to city for 14 days can be exhausting. People put a lot of pressure on themselves to stay awake on the coach. You need to remember it is better to stay awake and active once you have stepped off the bus. There is no point in traveling for 12 hours on a bus - only to sleep in the hotel once you arrive to your destination. Really, watching acres and acres of Olive Gardens will put you to sleep!

6. Budget.
There is not shame in sneaking food from breakfast in your bag for lunch. It will save you at least 5 euros a day!

7. Travel light
Just because you are allowed to take 20 kilos with you on the plane does not mean you have to take 20 kilos! I did and I was unable to do any shopping in Spain, Portugal and Morocco because of the airplane weight restrictions!

8. Smile
Traveling with a bus full of strangers can be intimidating but a simple smile can change a lonely trip to a fun and fulfilling trip.

9. Take risks but be cautious.
If it is unsafe for you to do something in your own country, then it is unsafe to do it in a foreign country! That said, take risks to come out of your comfort zone. Take public transportation, eat squid, jump on the parallel tour bus, and go swimming at 5 in the morning! These memories will continue to bring a smile on your face for years after the trip.

10. Opt out of the day excursions and always go for the night ones.
This will give you a chance to explore the city in the day time on your own and a chance to get dressed and have a lovely dinner at night.

11. Talk to everyone - there is something to learn from everyone!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Was it a dream?

Today I arrived back to London from the best experience of my life. As I said goodbye to my new found friends at the airport, my eyes welled with tears. I still cannot believe the trip I have planned all my life has come to an end. "Was it a dream?" I continue to ask myself, but I know it isn’t! I have photographs to prove it!

When booking the trip, I had decided this trip was a one shot deal - go away once on my own, learn to make friends, build some confidence and come back home - new and revived. However, upon entering Gatwick this Sunday afternoon, a new hunger has consumed me - A hunger to travel, to see everything I can see, to find new joys such as eating Churros Con Chocolata in the Plaza de Majora or singing HOLIDAY at a Karaoke place.

I have learned so much from meeting and conversing with people from different walks of life. I don't know if I would do another tour because I am afraid it will never be the same but I hope to feed this new hunger for as long as I can.

Today, I read Luis's blog (my adopted tour director) and as usual, I was inspired. He had posted verses of Shakespeare. I don't remember all the verses, but one hit home - "Time flies for those that fear". I have lived my whole life fearing. Fearing to colour my hair, fearing to make an attempt to look good, fearing to walk into Kaniz aunty's kitchen because of a damn kasuku (parrot)! I don't want to be terrorized by the kasuku anymore! I want time to be eternal and according to Luis's translation of Shakespeare, time is eternal for people that love - a fearless, passionate love for life and all it has to offer!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In Marakesh

Cant connect to my email. I am going to Casablanca tomoro and I am fine. Asif, dont worry!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An experience I will treasure

If for some reason, I had to fly home tomorrow, my heart would break, but in these few days I have gained so much, it would be enough to last me (for now).

So much is happening here, I don't know where to begin. We are moving from city to city, and I am overwhelmed with the information and feelings I am experiencing. To date, Madrid has captured my heart. I went to Plaza de Mayore yesterday and I walked along the narrow, beautiful streets just taking in the beautiful sights around me. The people here are so relaxed and happy - I have so much to learn from them and their lifestyle. They are so content with the little they have. After my little adventures along the streets, I sat on a sidewalk with my two new friends and listened to some Opera. While we were listening, my eyes wandered to the architecture around me. Each building was filled with detail, each beautiful, but still so different. Colours were dancing around me - vibrant reds and greens and yellows. I never

Today we went to Avila and Salamanca. Salamanca is the first University town in Europe and perhaps the most beautiful. Queen Isabella commissioned the University of Salamanca to be built and it is magnificent. The building itself looks like a cathedral. Around the university is a beautiful courtyard with sculptures accenting each corner. I sat on the grass and just looked around me, feeling so lucky to have had this opportunity to see such a wonderful place. Around the historical university, there are plenty of universities. Students were just sitting around drinking coffee and laughing. I wanted to join them. I wanted to be a part of the beautiful establishment.

Right now, I am in Coimbra, Portugal. This is another university town, but it does not have the same splendor as Spain. The people here seem to be a little more timid, and less likely to take risks. At about 10:00pm, the streets were empty, with the exception of a little bar overlooking the river.

The funniest thing happened to me today. When we stopped for a bathroom break, there was huge line up at the ladies washroom. Maggie and I decided to use the men’s washroom instead. We kept Luis in charge. Luis, being cheeky, told me that the bathrooms were empty. When I opened the door, I saw a man in the act!! I was SO embarrassed, I just ran. We came back a few minutes later to try our luck. We managed to go to the bathrooms. When Maggie came out, she calls me out. I rush out to me met with the sight of a random man at the urinal. We have decided that we are better off waiting in line

Tomorrow I will see the shrine of Fatima. I cannot wait.

Well, until maniana...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Been Around

I have 7 minutes remaining on my internet account so this will be a quick blog.

MY trip, so far, has been amazing. I entered the world of the Underground in London, and I have to say that they have a much better metro system that we do in Canada. I did not get lost once because it actually makes sense. I was hopping on and off the Northern Line and Picadally line and I loved every minute of it.

I am in Madrid right now. I feel a little like the girls in the Cadbury Thins year/old Austraounded my oldies. My room mate is a 70 year old Australian woman who is attempting her last trip and I, a 26 year old Canadian, going on her first trip alone. In a way, I feel like maybe she is a mirror of what this trip could mean for me.

The airport in Madrid is breathtaking with its array of colours and contemparary look.

30 secs to go... blog later

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A sad day for Portugal

I want to write something intelligent and interesting, but my mind is drawing a blank. Portugal is out of the World Cup 2006! How did this happen? Why did this happen? I cannot believe it. Who is to blame?

In Portugal's defense, I have to say they played one of their best games ever. They had good possession of the ball, attempted to score at numerous times, but at the end, it did not really amount to much - after all Zinade put France in the lead early on in the game.

In hockey, when playing for the Stanley Cup, the winning team and their fans change very little in their lives to ensure the winning streak stays with them. I think there were too many changes in the Portugal fanbase thereby jinxing Portugal. I mean, what other results should I have expected when supporters of Holland and supporters of England decide to change alliances? I am talking about Asif and Minaz! I blame Asif for the loss Portugal is enduring. While wearing a PORTUGAL shirt to the match (he is in Germany right now), he secretly was praying to see a goal by Henry! That's revolting!

And what infuriates me is the booing I heard for Ronaldo. That was completely uncalled for! He played a top notch game, almost scoring at the very end - dumb offside rule! The referee definitely didn't take him seriously and never called any fouls on him! Whatever!

I want to say to all the people who were not Portugal supporters to begin with, please bring your good karma with you when Germany and Portugal play on Saturday or please - do not support Portugal!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

How Can You Lose Something You Never Really Had?

After the movie marathon I had this weekend, one question remains with me. One of my all time favorite movie is. "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days". I love the simplicity of the plot line. Despite the simple plot line, the whirlwind of emotions the characters go through complicates the situation. This is one movie that I listen to every word (sometimes recite it by heart) the characters say. The lines are short but powerful. As the long weekend comes to an end, I awake in the morning asking myself the same thing Kate Hudson asked, "How can you lose something you never really had?".

I don’t know what it is that I have lost, but I know the tightness in my heart means something. Could it be that I have lost the security of my old school and am now entering into the unknown? I don't know. I seem really confused right now.

When I asked myself this question in the morning, the answer was simple and logical. You can't lose something you never had because it was never yours to begin with. But after some retrospection, I think you can. You lose the memory of the thing, you lose the security of the thing... so many times in life we enter a situation knowing what we have entered into is not permanent, like a temp job, or going to school, or going a trip. Despite knowing it is a temporary state of being, when it ends, it is like a void has filled the air around us. Why does this happen? Why is there such a huge continuum between reality and emotions?

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Joys Of Loneliness

When I walk into my home on Tuesday evening, my home is a mess. Clothes are strewed everywhere, the bed is unmade and food is left in the sink. Rather then tensing up as I would normally do, I smile. I know after I clean up that evening, it will remain clean for the next week - Asif is not in town. Ahh, the joys of loneliness!

After a quick dinner, I head for bed. I place my pillows strategically around the bed forming a little cocoon for me to lie in. My head touches the pillows and I fall asleep almost instantly. Ahh, the joys of loneliness.

I receive a few calls from well wishers. I can hear them clicking their tongues sympathetically over the phone. I politely field their condolences in a soft tone - "Haan (meaning 'yes' in Gujarati), Thank You, Yes, I will come to your house if I am scared". However the expression on my face does not match the sadness in my voice. After I put the phone away, I turn on the tele, watch a sappy chick flick, and munch on nachos, salsa and sour cream. Ahh, the joys of loneliness.

When the weekend arrives, I pack my bags and head to my moms. I am received with warm hugs, great food and wonderful company. Ahh, the joys of loneliness.

The weekend is full of peace. I bond with my mother and sister in law. We go out, watch movies, pamper ourselves, flirt with cute waiters (well, my mom is more of an observer) and we all giggle like high school kids. Ahh, the joys of loneliness.

These are just some of the joys of being alone. Loneliness doesn't have to equate unhappiness. It can equate rejuvenation - it is all in how you view your alone time. HAVE FUN! Make every moment a Kodak moment!