Bonjour, Hi from Montreal

Wondering around Montreal has been delightful but I began to wonder if I had left continental Europe at all. I knew that I had because the people of Montreal are much friendlier than the entire continent of Europe combined.

Everyone greeted you with ‘Bonjour, hi’ to gauge where you were from or if you were a fortunate Canadian who could speak both of the national languages. A local told us that the people in Montreal are actually some of the most unfriendly people in all of this maple syrup loving nation but coming from a place where even allowing an elderly person to sit or holding open a door is too much to ask for; this was a refreshing change.

Our morning was spent making our way over to Mont Royal, a beautiful park on the top of a hill which allows any visitor with a panoramic view of the city. We opted for the bus to take us to the top and since we had a day pass on public transport we figured we may as well use it. We were dropped off and took a casual stroll through the park towards the view point but we were not alone.

Some Canadian wildlife had decided to join us for some of the journey, a small squirrel was obviously using his looks to manipulate the two very obvious tourists that had wandered into his turf. Eventually the squirrel found something a little bit more interesting than us and we reached the view point.

The View from Mont Royal
The View from Mont Royal
The view was truly spectacular. The palate of reds, oranges and yellows from the changing leaves surrounded the tall and powerful grey and dark browns buildings creating a stark contrast. A slight and rather chilly breeze swept across us bringing with it leaves that whimsically danced in the wind as they made their great escape from the roots that had nurtured them. With a last little glance at the view we decided it was time to become a little more acquainted with the city; but first we needed something to eat.

We were told by several locals and visitors that a bagel was an absolute must and that there was one small establishment that made the very best bagels. St Viateur Bagels sits close to the Mont Royal metro station and part of their fame comes from the fact that they make their delicious bagels in the store and boil them before placing them in a large pizza type oven for baking.

Making our way down the store lined street we eventually found St Viateur’s with large bagels on the front signage. Once we were inside we chose a small table in the front window; the sunshine had made it a lovely and warm place to nest.

St Viateur's Traditional Bagel
St Viateur’s Traditional Bagel
We decided on sharing a traditional bagel and allowed our waitress to make the rest of the decisions on our behalf and within minutes our Montreal specialty had arrived. The bagel was covered in sesame seeds that were as toasted as we were in the midday fall sunshine, the cream cheese was liberally plastered on one side and on the other half sat layers of fresh pink salmon, red onion that had been crafty laid on top with capers that had hid themselves in the luscious folds.

For my first bite I had to make sure that I had all of the ingredients on my fork to have a true experience and I was certainly not disappointed. The bagel was so fresh and lighter than the dense bagels I have had previously. Suffice to say that my meal did not last long and I was left feeling perfectly content by the end. We sat chatting while observing the staff in the kitchen making endless streams of bagels to delight other visitors to St Viateur’s. Eventually it was time to make our way into Old Montreal.

St Viateur's Bagel
St Viateur’s Bagel
Arriving in the downtown area we wandered towards the port. I was surprised by the small number of people around, they too had drifted like the coloured leaves on the trees. The port provided an interesting side of the city with many buildings and factory warehouses having been completely abandoned. The number of these buildings around the area was astonishing and the only company that they now have are of the graffiti faces that decorate their walls.
With the cold wind picking up it was easy to understand why there was no hustle and bustle in the main squares of the city. Instead people sat indoors and ventured out to quickly nip inside somewhere else. As we weren’t accustomed as yet to the chilling wind we decided to explore some of the underground shopping malls.

These malls have over 32km of walkways and are home to hundreds of stores that sit in a world entirely on  it’s own. After a couple of hours meandering our way through these large and yet stuffy shopping pavilions we decided that it was time for something very important; dinner.

Each person we had spoken to had recommended a little place called Schwartz Deli and so without delay we made our way over to the Jewish Quarter. Arriving at Schwartz the first thing that we noticed was the very long queue out the front; initially we were put off by the hoards of people who too had followed the smell of smoked meat but if we weren’t going to wait we certainly weren’t going to get any.

We were sat at the counter of the small diner; newspaper articles and photos of semi – famous people covered the old smoked meat absorbed  walls. Every single table was full and each person had the same dish placed in front of them. We sat next to an older Canadian couple and as is custom, it seems, in Canada they greeted us and gave us some advice on what to order. We ordered with our waiter who also seemed to be the manager of the joint. Minutes later we had enough food in front of us to feed a small army or at least two self confessed food lovers.

 

Schwartz Heaven
 The sandwich had layers of thinly sliced deep pink beef with the edges brown and grainy from the spices that gave it the unique Schwartz flavour. Protecting the middle of the sandwich was of course the bread but this bread was fresh; the centre was soft and when you pressed strategically grabbed it, so as not to have the contents fall out, the bread felt like a soft cushion with the crust a light tanned colour. Mustard smothered each gap on one side of the sandwich and a dill pickle that looked like it was sat amongst Arnold Schwartzengger’s steroid cabinet, had a plate entirely on it’s own. We sipped the very local Cott’s  Soda which was insanely sweet but complimented the savoury meal which was slowly being devoured.

We savoured each bite and just as the people around us did we finished up and allowed those eager and waiting in the cold to come in and enjoy their experience. Plunged into the cold; which our waiter was insistent was worse than normal, we made our way back to our hostel for a quiet drink and a toast to completing our first city on our two month adventure. In two days we had completed the top three food experiences recommended to us by all those we spoke to about the beautiful city of Montreal.

Arriving back at the hostel we were greeted with a friendly smile and a ‘Bonjour, Hi.’

The 10 Misconceptions of Trip Managers 

Being a Trip Manager means you just get to drink and party all the time right? Wrong! The misconception of the life as a trip manager is something we all find pretty common.

Being a Trip Manager
Being a Trip Manager

Here are the top ten misconceptions of Trip Managers who take bunches of 50 youths around a continent.

1. Yes we party, but not all the time– We visit some of the world’s best party cities and trust me when I say that we enjoy having a boogie but we can’t always show you our winning dance moves (of which we have many). Getting very little sleep is normal and it sometimes means that we have to do the occasional ‘smoke bomb’. This ninja-like move is when we walk around; check that you are all having the best time and then ‘poof’ we disappear.

We do this knowing that you are going to have a great night regardless and that we will be the ones working the next morning while you attempt to cure a hangover. Do be aware though, that when we do pick a night to party we usually go hard and it means you may need to clear the dance floor and we will usually be in the last taxi home.

2. We are not human- This common misconception is felt by many in the industry. Now I know that sometimes it may seem as though we are robots; finely tuned with genius minds which never switch off but really we are not. Being human, as you may know, means that we have our ups and downs just like anyone else. We have to smile and be accommodating, that’s an essential part of our job but being human means we may have a day where we are sad, tired or do not want to be disturbed because we want to have a quick shower at the end of a long day.

St Mark's Square- Venice
St Mark’s Square- Venice

3. We know it all- So many people ask how we can remember as much as we do and when you work as a trip manager you are able to retain plenty of information but that doesn’t mean that we know it all. We are always learning and we may not have the answer for you but we are willing to find out or to listen to a fun fact that you have to share.

It is impossible for someone to know everything and this also means that sometimes we get lost; yes that’s correct. Sometimes we take a wrong turn in cities we know but most of the time you won’t even notice because we don’t want you to have to worry.

4. We don’t know the gossip on the coach- Please don’t be fooled. We know exactly what is going on. Organised group tours often have a feeling similar to what we all experienced in high school. There are groups of friends; some outgoing others a little shy and people who end up in a relationship on tour. Don’t think that we are oblivious to these happenings. We are always listening and just because it’s hasn’t been explicitly said that people didn’t spend the evening in their room doesn’t mean it’s not, almost always, noticeable the very next morning.

5. We don’t have lives outside of tour- We are faithful to you always, for 24 hours of the day you are in our care but sometimes we get to grab a few minutes to ourselves and in that time we will do normal things. We have family and friends who want to hang out and chat just as you do in your day to day life. We have hobbies and interest which extend well beyond our work and when your tour is finished; unless you were someone we genuinely enjoyed spending time with, we will part ways, continue with our lives as you continue with yours.

6. We haven’t done this before and have no idea what we are doing- no matter how many tours you have been on our how many times you may have visited a particular city you are not the Trip Manager. I’m sure you would be a little grumpy if someone came into your place of work and told you how to do your job so please don’t tell us how to do ours. Which leads to the next point

There is always time for a selfie
There is always time for a selfie

7. Anyone can get this job- We go through some of the longest and most intense training of all companies globally. No matter which company takes you on your tour rest assured that trip managers have put the blood sweat and endless tears into getting our dream job. Each year youth travel companies receive thousands of applications and companies will maybe employ around thirty to forty of those applicants; those aren’t great odds unless you work your butt off.

8. A tour just happens- The amount of work that goes behind a tour is staggering and it goes well beyond just the role of the trip manager. Our offices have teams who organise these trips and take the worry out of it for you. They probably have a fair few grey hairs for organising every aspect of the tour up to a year in advance. Have a think about the hotels, dinners, transport, drivers, activities, ferries, flights and activities, these things only cover the tip of the iceberg. This is why you booked a group tour, for us to take the hassle out of you having to organise it all yourself. You’re job is to be on holiday while we do the work remembering it is not only your driver and trip manager who make it happen.

9. We like you all- This may be the hardest blow for some of you but with every tour taking fifty travellers around continents we sometimes encounter people that we get on better with than with others. This is the way life works and there will be people you like and dislike. Just because you may not be someone we connect with as much doesn’t mean that you will have less of an incredible experience. We have to be professional, treat people equally and with respect but if you are not going to reciprocate that behaviour then don’t expect us to be best buddies outside of your tour.

10. We are on holiday- So many people assume that because we travel for work that we are on holiday; this couldn’t be more untrue. If we were on holiday we would be sitting next to you on the coach not at the front with mounds of paperwork and a list of endless tasks each day. If we look like we are having a good time it’s because we have managed to get all of our work done prior and because if we didn’t look like we were having a good time you may question if you were.

We Sphinx Egypt is Amazing
We Sphinx Egypt is Amazing

These misconceptions are common but our line of work lends to them but there aren’t many people in the industry who would trade it for anything else because we do have the best job in the world. We often take it for granted but it is a job and it does see us working hard to ensure that you have the best time possible.

We do have fun on a daily basis and most of that can be attributed to all of you who put trust in us to show you some of the most unique and fascinating places. You teach us things along the way and while you are busy making memories that you will cherish and hold dear; we are too and you are part of them and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

The Last Bit of Basking in Bali

One cannot truly experience a new land without seeing how the locals live. A land far from tourist areas where the pace is slower, the grass is greener and the country really shows you what it is has to offer.

Our fifth day was spent venturing away from the buzz of the beach area and into the archipelago wilderness towards the serene Ubud. The journey from Seminyak took us a good two hours. We had arranged the day before and booked with Bali Eco Cycling.

Our transfer arrived and our driver didn’t speak much English although we wouldn’t have been able to hear him over the loud snore of the engine getting gradually louder as the gears changed. We picked up four more people on the way and ventured from the tourist areas past the little villages and lush green landscapes to Ubud.

The Rice Terraces
The Rice Terraces

We stopped and picked up Weda, our guide for the day. He explained how he used to be a rice farmer and that he was now doing tours to improve his English; which was perfectly comprehensible. With a wide smile and a welcoming face he explained a short history of Bali and certain cultural aspects of Balinese life.

Listening intently we drove the tight road into a national park in the Kintamani area which is home to the active Batur Volcano and the calm Batur Lake. Our snoring van came to a halt at The Lookout Cafe where we were to have some breakfast. The view made me forget all about the void in my stomach and I was taken back by the sheer natural beauty of the area. The Batur Volcano last erupted in the sixties but the fertile land is a blessing and the lake below provides water to the rice paddies in the larger surrounding area.

The Batur Lake & Volcano
The Batur Lake & Volcano

Eventually after a light breakfast and when I could tear my eyes away from the majestic landscape, it was back into our noisy van to visit a coffee plantation. We were shown a variety of different plants by Weda and told about a type of coffee very unique to Indonsia and the little animal who helps produce it.

Kopi Luwak is the rarest type of coffee around and is produced after a small luwak or civet cat digests the beans allows them to pass through their system and then locals look for the droppings, clean them and roast them. Unfortunately these days the poor little luwaks are just kept in cages and exploited for the sake of a very expensive coffee. Coffee you cannot bring into Australia.

With our tea and coffee experience behind us it was time to start seeing the countryside without the constant grumble of the van. We were trading our four wheels for two and placing a helmet on our heads as we began a 25km ride.

It wasn’t long before we picked up a fair amount of speed as we were continuously travelling downhill and just as I was beginning to get used to the gears on the bike it was time to pull over onto a dirt track to our first stop.

Weda told us that we were going to visit a compound where several families lived and that some of the money from the tour was used to help the family. Walking in we were shown the kitchen. The small fire in the corner had coloured the walls black and the preparation bench was low to the ground. Traditionally in Balinese homes the women cook but Weda explained that it is not exclusively the women who cook and that for Balinese people meal time is something which is enjoyed alone and not in the company of others as Westerners are so used to doing.

Walking out of the kitchen someone caught my eye. There was a small old man who had been following me through the compound. With skin like a well-used leather bag and more wrinkles than a shirt in need of an iron this man muttered to himself. He sat himself on the side of the compound; always muttering to himself and seemingly pointing at nothing at all. Meanwhile around him was a hive of activity where the women were doing all the work weaving banana leaves into decorative shapes and bowls in preparation for the New Year festivities in a few days time.

"When his wife died, so did his spirit"
“When his wife died, so did his spirit”

I couldn’t tear my gaze from this old man. His empty eyes had caught mine full of wonder and I took a photograph of his face, he had a face full of stories and I had to capture it. Once I had I asked Weda about this intriguing man. He told me that he was the crazy man and that when his wife died so did his spirit.

We wandered through the compound and saw the ATM; which is the livestock. The livestock in the compound allow the families to make a small yet steady income. The old man was the only male I saw in the compound all of the other women has busied themselves and there was no barrier on age.

Grandmother
Grandmother

The oldest woman in the compound was 92 and she sat weaving while she gazed off into the distance. It made me wonder what they thought of us, tourists watching them. Encroaching on their daily routine with cameras and a sense of curiosity. This old woman; the grandmother of the compound had captivating eyes the colour of the ocean just after sunrise and age spots covered her face. When we said hello she smiled and gave us a nod all the while her hands never once stopping the intricate banana leaf weave.

It was a humbling experience to see the way that the majority of Balinese people in the rural areas live and how important trade and hard work is to them. Walking out of the compound I turned around one final time to see if I could spot the old man but he was gone.

Peddling down the hill we began seeing wide open spaces with eternal green rice fields, people were working in the fields and children ran to the road to wave frantically and shout ‘hello’ as us, the strangers, passing by in awe.

The Eternal Green Paddies
The Eternal Green Paddies

We stopped in the rice paddies and got to have a little walk through, balancing carefully, so as not to fall in the mud below, we walked on the paths between the paddies. Rice is the staple food for the majority of the global population and to see the work behind something we take so for granted was fascinating.

Weda handed us ponchos and said it was going to rain; without question we popped them on and continued our ride through the countryside. True to his word the heavens opened and a refreshing tropical rain fell. Within minutes we were all soaked but there was something magical about riding in the rain. All the tension and electricity held in the humidity before just dissipated and the cool drops were welcoming with both of us opening our arms and embracing the  droplets rolling off of our faces. The path cleared of frantic children, the rice paddies were deserted and had an overwhelming feeling of solitude and happiness.

Our day cycling around the countryside was nearly complete but we needed to have a final lunch stop before the journey home. We drove up to a beautiful restaurant which overlooked yet another rice paddy field and the smell of peanut and chilli filled the air along with the damp ground below from the rain. We sat and indulged on a variety of different dishes all with an Indonesian or South East Asian influence. There was Nasi Goring, similar to fried rice, duck, chicken satay with a tofu dish and of course fresh steamed rice.

Paying only US$40 for our whole day with Bali Eco Cycling; we were amazed at everything that had been included and I really would highly recommend them if you plan on going to Bali.

We eventually said our goodbyes to Weda our wonderful guide and began on the winding road away from the dense forest and green fields back towards  the brown sandy beaches of Seminyak on the outer edge of the island. I began reflecting on the morning and everything that we had done. It had been spectacular, not just this day but all the previous days in Bali too. It is beautiful to see how the people are so gentle, friendly and welcoming.

A Final Sunset
A Final Sunset

Our last days in Bali were spent embracing the culture, rituals and traditions of the island. We sat and watched the sun set over the ocean, we laughed and we experienced a place of true beauty which captivated me and left me wanting to stay.

 

Basking in Bali: Day Four

Traditions and rituals are two things which define a culture. Seeing both while travelling allows for a greater understanding and overall appreciation of a country.

Our fourth day in Bali was spent observing some of these traditions and rituals as we made our way to one of the most popular temples in Bali;  Pura Tanah Lot.

Tanah Lot is located in Tabanan off of the Indonesian island and is perfectly placed on the top of a large rock which juts out from the sea. It stands tall while the Indian Ocean batters and shapes its sides while the temple is witness to some of Bali’s best sunsets over the horizon. It is around a 45 minute drive from the centre of Seminyak. Entrance costs 30 000 IDR each (around AUS $3) and to park a car it costs a small 5000 IDR (AUS $0.50) which is a small price to pay for the beauty of the complex.

Pura Tanah Lot
Pura Tanah Lot

Once through the gates  you will find an array of market stalls. While many of the goods are the same as you can find in Seminyak there are a few slight differences in some of the products with more hand-crafted goods including woven bowls and wooden statues.

One of the stores had three women sitting in a row and they ran a well-oiled coconut cutting machine; two of the women shaved coconuts and rolled the shavings into small balls for people to try while the third woman stood with a machete knife and beheaded coconuts; pouring the water into a small plastic bag and before tying the top places a straw in the bag for easy drinking which is much lighter than carrying an entire coconut around.

Meandering through the markets and dodging the daily offerings we made it to the entrance gates of the Tanah Lot area. When we arrived the tide was low, the sky clear and the sun high. To the left of Tanah Lot was the Pura Batu Bolong temple. This tiny temple is situated on the edge a cliff sticking out into the ocean where centuries of crashing salt water waves have eroded the rock causing a hole in the wall of the cliff creating a unique natural scene.

Pura Batu Bolong
Pura Batu Bolong

Meandering from the Pura Batu Bolong we made our way down the stairs to the entrance of the Tanah Lot temple where the sea water swashed its way around the rock holding the temple. People were getting photographs from every angle while ensuring that they didn’t step in a puddle left from the low tide.

We walked up towards the temple and saw people crossing the small stream to get to the entrance of the temple. Upon crossing the stream ourselves and with soggy shoes we noticed that the men in the temple were offering blessings to all. There was a stream of Holy Water which you poured over your head, once you had done this you then were sprinkled with more water, had rice grains placed on your forehead and a frangipani placed behind your ear as a blessing. It was a very peaceful and beautiful ritual which I have never experienced before.

Guarding the Guardians
Guarding the Guardians

After our blessing we were able to have a look at the Holy Sea Snakes. These snakes are said to guard the temple from evil spirits and they used to be free and able to protect the area.Now they are kept in a small sand cave with a local man guarding the guardians and ensuring visitors pay a small fee to view them.

In the heat of the midday sun the Tanah Lot stands cool and calm with its free-flowing Holy Water and it’s age old traditions. A visit to Bali wouldn’t be complete without visiting this unique Sea Temple.

Basking in Bali: Day Three

The tranquillity and friendliness of the Balinese people and the culture breeds an air of calm which is something so often lost in our crazy lives. 

Our third day in Bali was spent trying to regain some of the calm.
A morning spent at the pool was certainly what was needed; we sipped on a freshly opened coconut with the water inside sweetened with cane sugar and fresh lime. The pool area a perfect place to catch up on books which have been waiting for holiday reading.
After a lazy morning it was time for an Indonesian lunch feast. The smell of Nasi goreng with chicken satay and prawn crackers filled my nostrils and as hungry as I was I tried to abstain from devouring it in one go. Nasi goreng is like an Asian fried rice. It has legumes and small pieces of chicken throughout with fresh chilli.
After our Indonesian feast we decided it was time to be pampered. A one hour Balinese massage was on the cards and at AUS $8.50 for an hour it was difficult to deny. A Balinese massage is the perfect way to relax; it uses a firm hand and comes complete with head scratch and the light fragrance of frangipani oil smothered all over the body.
Floating away from our massage it was time for a little adventure. We hoped in the car with Mr Pasak, our driver, and we were off to tick something off of the bucket list; a yoga class in Bali.
This wasn’t going to just be any yoga class though but one which overlooked a Balinese sunset on the ocean atop a cliff surrounded by forest in Uluwatu.
We drove up just in the nick of time to Uluwatu Surf Villas. The setting was so serene and the yoga class, while challenging, allowed us to take a moment to reflect on our breathing and all things calm. After an hour and a half on the mat watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean with the damp smell of the forest it was time to head back to Seminyak.
The road seemed quieter in the evening but even so there was an audience on the side streets as traffic swirled in every direction like a firework placed in the ground but instead of the slight smell of gunpowder it was the smell of exhaust fumes.
Arriving back in Seminyak we strolled to the strip of restaurants along the beach and popped ourselves at La Plancha. This trendy little restaurant catches your eye more than the others with its splash of colour. Laid out along the beach are beanbags of every colour with umbrellas to match where light bulbs hang above and the staff wear Hawaiian inspired shirts. We sat ourselves down, ordered a Bintang, enjoyed the calm surroundings with a light meal while listening to live music and toasting to another day in paradise.

Basking in Bali: Day One

Arriving in Bali the doors of the plane open and stepping out into the equatorial humidity hits you before anything else. This is a tropical island paradise where the life is slower, the people smile more and before you are even done with your first day you are sure to find yourself floating on an Indonesian cloud.

Denpasar airport is the first port of call and it looks like a oversized old ballroom equipped with art nouveau chandeliers. Instead of lushious round tables, bow ties and a jazz band playing this ballroom arrivals terminal is equipped with several small booths where the masses of tourists, mostly Australian, queue to get their visas to enter Bali.

Visas for Bali cost US$35 OR AUS$50 and can be paid in pretty much any currency.This price has recently changed from the normal US$25. The process is quick and seamless with the lady behind the counter welcoming us to Bali with a big smile. The customs and immigration officers were talking amongst themselves as they checked my immigration card but Anthea got chatting to the guard who said that six days in Bali wasn’t enough.
A quick bag scan and little walk later we were out into the arrivals hall of the airport. It is a interesting experience as you are so used to seeing families with loved ones and children who on their tip toes peer over the barrier to see that familiar face. This was not the same. Along the glass barrier stood men in loose linen and tropical beach shirts all hosting an array of white pieces of paper some with name scribbled in anything that left a mark and others with snazzy printed and laminated card.
We eventually found our man; Deta greeted us and welcomed us to Bali. He was kind enough to explain a few of the procedures and how to avoid being taken for an ignorant tourist on our first visit to this equatorial archipelago.
The ride to the hotel was interesting to say the least. Scooters hummed like bees flying from a hive around us and with jerky movements they flew from one side of the road to the other. With no real guidelines to how many people could occupy a scooter or what items may be carried on the scooters it made for some interesting observations with children asleep on the handlebars, dogs sitting on feet and an enormous crate of corn carefully balancing on the back.
Katut, our driver, said that this was all perfectly normal and told us to ensure we barter with the storekeepers in the marketplace. Zooming up in our little van to the front of our hotel we were met by hotel security who opened the back door to suss out the arriving goods; us.
Driving up the driveway; I had a moment. As if those movies where the princess makes her way to the caste for the first time. She stares from her window and time slows as she gazes in wonder; well that was me at the reception of our hotel.
The Royal Beach Hotel in Seminyak is simply beautiful. The staff are friendly and our room is exquisite. We were kindly shown to our suite after a refreshing arrival ice tea and once the receptionist had shut the door we found ourselves giddy. We giggled like little girls, jumping up and down and I proceeded with my face planting ritual on the freshly made beds with crisp white linen.
We spent the last bit of the afternoon lazing at the pool surrounded by tropical gardens which are impeccably kept. We ordered a celebratory cocktail coming to the mutual agreement that this was going to be paradise for the next little while and just what was needed for our souls, we were then prompted to take our first sip.
Relaxing with an ocean view
The beaches of Seminyak come alive at twilight and it was the perfect time for us to wander alongthe charco coloured sand. The umbrellas, surfboards and loungers are packed away while the beanbags, lanterns and small bands litter the beach.
With unrecognisable lyrics to the songs we all know to vendors selling local goods to singers whose voices could be mistaken for that of Keith Urban we found a spot to enjoy our first Bintang Beer.
We made our way to The Sand Beach Bar and Alex; our waiter called us his darlings as he ushered us to nearby bean bag as we sang along, sipped our beer, enjoyed the sunset and listened to the grovel and molasses-like voice of the singer near by.
Seminyak’s Musical Twilight
A little wander along the restaurants dodging scooters and minivans we arrived back to our haven with an evening dip in the pool and a restful evening in beds fit for any princess.
With first day in Bali complete; I can now understand why so many people recommend this peaceful, beautiful island and why for so many people it is not their first visit.

Why Wanderers Wander

Movement is natural, change is imminent and the longing to do both constantly seems instinctual.

Many ask why we wander and how it is that we can forever be chasing the horizon without a fixed address, with no plans of slowing down or stopping but perhaps only ever slightly changing the route from time to time.

The Sahara Desert- Morocco
The Sahara Desert- Morocco

It is an addiction at its very core. Just like any other addiction it takes hold, enticing you to want more and rendering you helpless to its grasp. At the same time it is the sort of addiction which gives you a sense of freedom; empowering you in a way which allows you to feel true happiness, even if just for a moment, no matter your surroundings.

We wander because it is normal although it may not be normal to those who stay put in what society considers ‘normal’. We wander to break the mould, to take ‘normal’ and to tip it upside down.

Shibuya Crossing- Tokyo
Shibuya Crossing- Tokyo

Essentially we are misunderstood souls searching for something which we temporarily call home; even though we often could not be further away from home. We live for the moments where we feel true happiness; whether that be watching fellow misunderstood souls singing in a bar for the love of it and not for the applause, eating local delicacies on the streets, noticing small details on a historic artwork which completely changes its meaning or waiting for the moment when we are alone and have an opportunity to enjoy the silence in our ever changing world.

We live and wander from one happy moment to the next because that what really matters in our life; being happy.

Geirangerfjord-Norway
Geirangerfjord-Norway

We crave going to new places and venturing beyond the tourist spots heaving with bodies. Not because we have seen it before but because we want a deeper understanding of our ever changing surroundings and what makes them so unique. We walk on the edge of the pathway to get to that hidden cafe a little quicker, we take the quiet streets, we notice the street art and don’t have a favourite lunch spot or favourite city because that would be too difficult a choice.

Many people say that wanderers are lucky. That is true; we see some of the most diverse and interesting places in the world. Our best moments are plastered for the world to see but just like anyone we have numerous bad days while wandering and working with situations where everything that could go wrong does.

Gullfoss- Iceland
Gullfoss- Iceland

Working in an industry where wandering and moving becomes a part of everyday life allows us to appreciate the little things, recognise those happy moments and live the life we made happen with plenty of determination and hard work.

We don’t know where our next step will take us or what the future holds just yet and while it can be a scary thought it is thrilling and exciting. We know that we wander to escape but that eventually we too will stop changing our horizons or chasing a new and exciting location. We will eventually live the ‘normal’ life where movement and change become a little more difficult because of life’s inevitable commitments. We stop chasing a temporary home and find a place we can be comfortable.

The Eiffel Tower-Paris
The Eiffel Tower-Paris

I am not sure the instinctual urge to move will ever disappear entirely; it is part of who we are. We are wanderers and when we do eventually stop we will have stories and memories that most people only ever dream of having and that we were happy to have lived.

To Live the Suitcase Life

So many people seem to call themselves well-travelled these days but many seem to live something they imagine to be the suitcase life.

Once you have lived out of a suitcase for over two or five years then perhaps you can call yourself reasonably travelled.

The idea of being well-travelled does not mean staying in 5 Star hotels and having mummy and daddy pay for it all. It means; getting lost and not knowing which direction to turn, scraping pennies for the £3 meal deal at Tescos, having all of your belongings stolen in a land where not a soul speaks English and waking up in the middle of the night with a swollen face from the bed bugs who have bitten you in the early hours.

I am well-travelled and this is something I would not trade for the world.

There are so many ‘travellers’ and impressionable bloggers out there who call themselves well-travelled but who have no real idea what it truly means.

In my job I travel every day and I take people for whirls around Europe. I enhance their experiences by showing them the time of their lives. Some of these people are what most consider to be well-travelled but really they are only beginning to get their first glimpse of what real travelling truly means. They have budgets and commitments which anyone who is travelling should have. For many of these temporary suitcase travellers they really do have the time of their lives, I know this to be true as many have said that they felt liberated, free and happy with the people they have slowly become by travelling over time by discovering new cities and cultures. They live the temporary suitcase life but ultimately return to normality where life is comfortable and constant; something we humans crave.

I like to think that I show them the real world and not some jaded image of how people think people should be travelling these days.

The real suitcase life means hanging around a laundromat until your washing is dry enough that it won’t smell like mould in the next 3 days, it means wearing flip-flops in the shower and hearing the person snoring in the bed across the dorm as you imagine throwing a pillow at their head; and in some instances you do. These descriptions merely scratch the surface of a real suitcase traveller.

I cross countries every two to three days and yes in my job I get a snapshot of cities; but these cities I return to, the locals become friends and the customs become ordinary.

To live the suitcase life means to you become a local; you are greeted in the language of the country you are in because you are seen as one of them. You don’t stand out and flash your Prada handbags and free top-notch accommodation because all that does is scream ignorant tourist and spoilt little brat.

You spend your free days (which are few and far between) searching for something new to do where the tourists do not exist and where you feel as though you fit the mould of a local. Your holidays are spent scouring any possible resource for the best bargain to the most remote place you know. It becomes a new adventure to add to the never-ending list you have not written down but have scrambled in your head with everything else you wish to achieve before you have to get “serious about life”.

To live the suitcase life is not for everyone but rather for those with the spirit for it. It is for those who have nothing to prove to everyone else. Nothing to show off to the endless followers with floppy hats claiming that they are wanderlust when really all they are is delusional. Delusional about reality and what it really means to travel.

I salute all who really embrace the suitcase life and all the hard times that go with it. I admire those even more who take those hard times with their suitcase and who make friends with people that they never thought they could, who live life on budget they never thought that they could manage, who fall in love with remarkable cities and who see the world with new eyes because they have truly travelled and know that they have gained a world of experience from it. To live the suitcase life is to take anything that comes your way and to turn it all into noteworthy memories and times that you shall never forget.

If you really live the suitcase life then you know what I am talking about because you are in it, living it and breathing it because the normality of life that humans crave does not fit us. We break the mould each day, we become locals in several countries because we know how they live. Everyday we get up and our suitcases are packed and ready to go, ready to see what awaits us at our next destination.

To those who truly live the in this never ending moving world that I speak of; go and make memories while living your suitcase life because it certainly is the best time of your life.

 

Fez-tive Moroccan Madness

Moroccan Sunlight
Moroccan Sunlight

The dark red cotton sheets hang from store to store as the setting sun peeks through the small holes onto the rough cobble stone streets below where tourists and locals alike wander the marketplace.

Assaulted with colours and smells; store owners try and lure you into their hole in the wall stores with the best possible deal. The array of products on offer is enough to entice any market wanderer. There is the sound of the butcher chopping a head of a lamb while the live chickens cluck with their legs tied to the cages which bind them. An old man with skin wrinkled by the Sahara sun pushes a cart of fresh mint as shoppers bargain for a bunch to add to their daily dose of Moroccan tea.

Morocco truly is a feast for the senses; an overwhelming experience that will leave you wondering how the chaos seems to make this thriving country function while remaining so very unique.

We made our way to the ancient capital of Fez where we had our first true Moroccan experience.

The madness of the Fez markets was something to behold. Every place we looked it seemed that everyone was on a mission. The shop keepers so desperately trying to get the attention of any of the tourists who walked past their shop front and the tourists doing anything to avoid making eye contact with these shop keepers, so that they weren’t lured into their special price web in which so many became so easily entangled.

The markets displayed an enormous amount of products from leather shoes and teapots with the mint cart brushing past your thigh to the goat head; chopped and skinned with a blank stare as the butcher behind the counter cheers and shouts to other shop keepers with chicken feet in his hands.

The smell of the market is what hit me first; each section of the market has a rather unique smell. Beneath it all is he smell of urine from the stray animals but this is combined with the smell of Moroccan leather in shoe alley, to raw meat, fresh fruit and the best of all; the smell of the restaurants, it sure does fill the nostrils.

The Blue Gate
Bab Boujeloud

Tourists in Fez stick out like a sore thumb as they all dine in the same area near the Blue Gate or Bab Boujeloud as it is known is a hive for tourists with overly friendly waiters luring on the edges of their establishments with menus to entice anyone who is ready to try a Moroccan dish.

Sitting amongst tourists; which admittedly is not something I enjoy doing but my stomach gave me no other option, we ordered our food but as it appears we were not the only ones at the table. The stray cats weaved between our legs trying to charm us. Lucas, not a lover of cats, soon chased them away and we ordered. The mint tea was overly sweet but the contrast of the granulated sugar at the bottom and the fresh mint certainly cooled me off after a hot day. Morocco is known for tajine, a couscous dish cooked with meat or vegetables in a traditional dish called a tajine. I had to have one and being a Monday I knew it was a good idea.

Why Monday you may wonder? Well the locals in Morocco only make and eat fresh couscous on a Friday; it is an age old tradition which makes eating couscous unique. Of course there is couscous available every other day for tourists but if you want the best then it is a good idea to order it as close to Friday as you possibly can. My tajine with couscous was not really what I expected, being in Morocco I expected the food to be spicier; however it is more plain than you would imagine and by no means less tasty. Lucas enjoyed a variety of meats on kebabs and we sat and watched the waiters lure in tourists just as we had been lured ourselves.

Women in the Market Place
Women in the Market Place

The Moroccan sun set over the distant mountains and the sound of the call to prayer brought a calming effect on the bustling city. Sat on our rooftop with the cool Moroccan summer breeze on our backs I felt tranquil and relaxed as after the prayer the city below began buzzing again.

The following day we had only one goal; get lost in the Medina or the Old Town. Upon further examination we had discovered that we had only scratched the surface of the Medina the night before and that we needed to delve deeper inside the maze that dominated the city of ancient Moroccan city of Fez.

Wandering through the markets I felt less intimidated than I had the evening before. The overwhelming attention thrown my way was certainly not something that I was used to but it was something I was going to have to come to terms with. While I dressed respectfully I still stuck out and not only was I stared at by men who would whistle and holler at me but by Muslim women who were dressed in their Burqas. I noticed one woman staring at me from across the street, she had been for quite some time. I looked at her and smiled as a natural reaction and I am positive she smiled back. In that moment I felt some kind of mutual understanding. We may have been from opposite ends of the earth with different beliefs and lifestyles but at the core we were both women who in some way understood each other. It may sound odd to some but that was one of the most beautiful moments of the day.

Moroccan Tanneries
The Tanneries

An essential part of the Moroccan markets was the leather products and Fez has one of the oldest tanneries in the world. A tannery is where all the leather is chemically and mechanically dyed before it is made into the diverse range of products which are later sold in the market place. We both knew the direction of the tanneries however as soon as we were spotted by local we were helpfully escorted to the tanneries; for a fee of course. We were greeted with a handful of mint which was abruptly shoved in our hands which confused us ever so slightly.

We walked up to the balconies and saw the array of ancient tubs with the dyes in each and local men doing backbreaking work as they dyed each piece of fresh leather as if the animal was skinned that morning; possibly because they had been. Then we needed the mint. The smell of the fresh leather and the dyes was quite gag-worthy. A few tourists were spotted gagging as they passed by, it was rather comical really. Tourists would have a sniff of the mint, lower it, raise the camera, get their shot before quickly replacing the mint while gagging on the smell. The experience was certainly one that is an absolute must in the ancient city of Fez and one that me and my nose would never forget.

Tombeaux des Merindes

As we continued to wander we left the Medina and started climbing an endless hill, arriving later at the top of Fez with a view of the entire city at the Tombeaux des Merindes. These tombs were home to ancient Kings of Morocco which have since been raided and only the outer walls remains. It provides locals and tourists with one of the most spectacular views of the city and once again we were moved by the sound of the call to prayer bellowing across the city from left to right.

I had no expectations of what the city of Fez would be like but this ancient city became somewhat of a surprise. The people were friendly, the markets packed with a chaotic business which when you sat back and observed gave it a certain meaning. All of my senses were completely overwhelmed but it was exactly what I was craving; something new and exciting and this was only the beginning of the Moroccan adventure. The best was yet to come.

 

The Final Countdown-Contiki Training Part Six

It has been nearly a year since Contiki training started and the feeling of finishing that trip is possibly the greatest achievement in my short 23 years on this beautiful planet.

The final stages of the Contiki Training Trip were possibly the most difficult. Following the ‘Zombie Stage’ comes the stage where everything becomes a bit of a blur. Eastern Europe felt so rushed, we travelled through more than one country a day and as soon as we finished studying one we were hurtled into another.

The cities began to look the same and the routine of each day became like that of ‘Ground Hog Day’ just with a different background.

Highlighters marked each completed day and the closer we got to the end the more it began to dawn on me and others that we were going to do this, that we were going to successfully complete training and be signing a contract with Contiki, the World’s number one tour company for 18-35 year olds.

It is the most testing thing I have ever done and one that makes me proud every day. I pushed through with my colleagues and we finished together. Sixty six long days; we were grumpy, tired, emotional and occasionally snapped at each other but all worked endlessly to get through.

So many of my readers are going on this journey themselves. Jumping into the relatively unknown and attempting to land the job that I consider to be the best in the world (I know this may sound cliché but it is true).

To all of you who are on this years training trip or to anybody who is considering it in the future; work hard. Nothing is ever easy and you will be testing to your physical and mental limits. You may find that there will be days that you want to quit and throw in the towel, where getting out of bed seems impossible but really it is not.

Training is designed to test you and just remember that you have already put in some of the hard yards; you have gone through the interviewing process, been accepted and hopefully poured your heart and soul into the assignment.

Contiki saw something in you, a little sparkle and they are giving you a shot, a big opportunity. Show them what you have got and more importantly prove to yourself what you can do.

Give it your all; head down and bottom up, don’t think that you know it all because you most certainly do not. Do what you are told, get the work done and most importantly remember to enjoy yourself.

Training allows you to see some of the most incredible places in all of Europe so wake up each day with a fresh outlook, smile, laugh and stay off of the caffeine tablets!

I won’t say good luck because luck has nothing to do with it, work hard and hopefully I will see you on the road.

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