Port Douglas

September 1, 2012

Several months ago I took a trip to Queensland.  A quick getaway – I didn’t know what I would find, but hoped it would be peaceful…

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Lapland – in summation – is an amazing place. Auroras, sled dogs, ice hotels, and more snow and ice than I have ever seen at once. But there’s always time for a bit more. On my return to Kiruna Airport I took a mini-bus tour in search of moose. You would think that an animal that looked something like a cow crossed with a donkey would be hard to find. But not in Lapland. Five minutes out of town, there they were.


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What would possess a man to strip down to his thermals, jump into a sleeping bag and spend the night in a tomb of ice and snow? It’s hard to say really, but would you refuse a night in the world’s only hotel made from the frosty remnants of a crystal clear river? If the answer is yet another question which you cannot answer but by posing yet another question, then…(he skips to the end)…you probably just discovered the ICEHOTEL.
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Frozen Europe 2010: Kiruna

January 14, 2011

Kiruna, located 145km above the arctic circle, is Sweden’s northern-most city. With just under 20,000 people it is a relatively small affair. But, business is booming. The two main industries in Kiruna would seem to be the iron mine, space-based industries, and tourism. And with more snow than I have ever seen in one place at one time, Kiruna seems to have successfully carved out a niche as the launching point for many cold weather-based tourist activities. In the centre of town, you doesn’t have to look far to find a tourist office. In fact, I didn’t even have to go inside for at a nearby store I was pounced on by a tour guide who was quick to lead me back to her office and offer me everything from dog sled tours, snowmobile trips, moose spotting, trips to the Aurora Skystation (to see the Northern Lights), and other more cultural activities centred around the local Sami people. Needless to say, I indulged in many of these activities; more photos to come in subsequent postings.
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There are easier ways to get to Stockholm from Cologne. But when you find a cheap flight you have to take it.
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Frozen Europe 2010: Cologne

January 12, 2011

Can one ever get tired of travelling? As much as I want to say no, it is clear to me that as the money runs low and the sensory stimulation runs high there must be an end. And now, as I sit in the comfort of my own home I can reflect back on my travels. The spirit of adventure. The joy of discovery quietly slipping back into the recesses of my mind as I settle back into daily life. But, what a trip! What was initially a trip into the wintery wonderland of Sweden and the Arctic Circle quickly enjoyed a “warm up” event; the Christmas markets in Cologne.
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Addendum: Ourika Valley

November 22, 2010

Sorry, I nearly forgot! One day I took a trip out of Marrakech to see the Ourika Valley, a popular destination for tourists in search of the traditional Berber lifestyle. Located in the High Atlas mountain range just outside of Marrakech, tourists can see dramatic rock formations and waterfalls as you wander through Berber villages as they practice (and sell) their arts and crafts.  And whilst not as persistent as the Marrakech Souk, you’ll probably still end up buying something as most tours seem to stop at stores along the way.

I think pictures tell the story better than words in this case, so I’d better start the upload…

It’s hard to imagine how I forgot to put these into my other ramblings about the trip, but now I remember. Or should I say, my stomach remembers.

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Spain/Morocco 2010: Madrid

November 19, 2010

Madrid, the last stop on a two week excursion into Spain and Morocco. A truly beautiful city, Madrid is immediately recognised for being steeped in history as you walk from beautiful building after another along it’s pristine street-scapes. As a tourist, there was no shortage of things to do, be it the world famous Prado and Reina Sofia art galleries, or roaming through the Mercado de San Miguel for a plateful of fresh tapas. Or you can do as the Madrilenian’s do and spend a lazy afternoon in the Parque de el Retiro, sipping on a cerveza or lapping up an ice-cream. Or a little of both if you are like me. But like all good things they must end and so thus endeth the trip; it was a good end, a relaxing way to finish a fantastic vacation. I hope you have enjoyed the anecdotes and photos. Watch this space…Sweden next month!
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Spain/Morocco 2010: Casablanca

November 16, 2010

Back to Business. Casablanca. Compared to Marrakech, “Casa” is the “big city”, the economic engine-room and the more modern alternative. Cars rage through the streets. Men, women, and children dart across un-signalled roads in unrelenting mortal danger. Skyscrapers dominate the skyline. Hawkers are a bit slower to hassle the tourist. Restaurateurs and waiters are still more than willing to overcharge where they can. Trust me on this one. If a waiter says that something costs a certain amount, ask for a menu. When they say they don’t have a menu (and they do), consider walking away. I wish I could say this was not the common experience, but it was clear that tourists were commonly regarded as people to pinch a few extra dirhams from whenever possible.
But, a trip to Casablanca isn’t complete without a trip to the amazing Hassan II Mosque. To be fair, there isn’t a lot else to see here (we went to the tourist office and left empty handed – unless you count a trip to the mall as a highlight) but the Hassan II trumps all of that. With the potential to house 25,000 worshippers (20,000 men on the floor and 5,000 women in the balconies), the mosque one of the largest in the world. Our tour guide told us that this made it the third “largest” in the world, but subsequent searching has yielded mixed results (2nd, 5th, and 7th respectively on various measures). In either case, it’s big.
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Sinterklaas in Amsterdam

November 15, 2010

Every year, Amsterdam celebrates the arrival of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas) and this year was no different. According to legend (Wikipedia and various other websites) he comes in straight off a flotilla from Spain to hand out pepernoten (cookies) with his helpers, the Zwarte Piets. Being a uniquely Dutch tradition I was there, camera in hand, ready to capture the action for posterity.
Sinterklaas evidently has some parallels with the Christmas celebrations I know, but here the stocking cap is replaced with a mitre (Bishop’s hat) and gone are the reindeer in favour of a white horse. Then of course, there are the Zwarte Piets themselves which might remind some of us of Santa’s elves. Apparently there was an attempt to give them rainbow face paint a few years ago but it didn’t quite catch on…
Undoubtedly controversial to some, there are some different interpretations to be found here if you are willing to run it through a translator. Stories vary, with “soot from the chimney” popping up often in my timid Google searches. But regardless of the origin of this phenomenon, there was no doubting the smiles on the children’s faces as they screamed at the “Piets” for cookies (awwww…)
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