Monthly Archives: May 2016

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Highland Hijinks

Category : Travel

Since I have distant family members living in Scotland, I had always wanted to go and meet my cousins living across the pond. One summer when I was 23, I finally managed to save up the money for a two-week trip to Inverness, which is largely where my relatives were located. Now, let me preface this story by saying that I am a city girl through and through. There’s no subway system that I can’t navigate, no apartment too small and I’ve never eaten a burger under six dollars (yup, even fast food restaurants are more expensive in the city).

When I finally got to Scotland, I was a little disconcerted to discover that my relatives lived on a sheep farm – I could already tell that my strappy sandals were going to be of no use here. And Inverness – which is right in the heart of the Highlands – is quite a hilly and muddy place. My grand Scottish adventure was quickly turning into a disappointment.

However, the sheep on my cousin’s farm had different plans for me – and they were ready to give me all of the adventure that I could handle.

One drizzly day, I decided to go on a hike around my cousin’s farm and see the sights. Now, in the UK, it’s not uncommon for farmers to let their livestock wander around as they please. In fact, coming across a crowd of sheep on a major road is a pretty common occurrence. So when I was walking down the road that led past my cousin’s farm, I was more than surprised to be greeted by a huge flock of sheep.

And one ram was just as surprised to see me as well.

What followed will go down in history as the most intense cardio workout I’ve ever had in my entire life. The ram proceeded to chase me along the road and into a field, where I was forced to crawl up on a large rock in order to avoid being butted by his horns. I figured that the ram would eventually get bored and go away, but no – he stalked me for the next two hours while I screamed for someone to help me. Eventually, I was discovered by my cousin, who then proceeded to tell everyone in Scotland about his American relative who couldn’t even escape “a dumb sheep”.

I’ll never live it down.

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Cest Replique

Category : Travel

It was my first week as an exchange student. I was sixteen years old and in Paris with my best friend Jim. We would leave our host house, take the subway into the heart of the city, wander around Paris for the day, then take a bus to meet up with our exchange group. It worked perfectly the first day we tried it. We met up with Mr. Reily and the rest of the exchange students at the D’Orsay museum.

The second day we were not so lucky. We underestimated the ability of Parisians to pull a fast one on unsuspecting American youth. We were supposed to meet our exchange group at the Arc de Triomphe. Around two o’clock we started asking French citizens how to get to the monument. Our French skills were lacking, but many of the French spoke English, and we were soon on a bus on our way to the Arc. Following our guide’s instruction we got off the at a park on the edge of the Seine River.

We made our way to the center of the park where there was a twenty-foot arch in the middle of a fountain. An hour went by, it was past four o’clock, and none of our exchange group was there. We started to realize that we had made a mistake. We decided to catch a bus out of the park and find our way to the real Arch.

We asked our fellow double-decker travelers where the Arch was, but no one could understand us. Frustrated, I made an announcement to the whole bus. “Je suis perdu. Qui speakes un petit anglais”

“I speak English well.” The man was dressed in a suit and he carried a briefcase. Jim and I slid into the seat next to him and explained our predicament. The man chuckled, “They were putting a joke on you, the Arch in the park is réplique.” He continued to laugh and went on to explain that many Parisians send tourists to the replica Arch in the park as a trick. The man with the briefcase took pity on us silly Americans, rode with us for the connecting subway ride, and made sure we safely met our group.

We were two hours late, this was before the days of cell phones, and Mr. Reily had started to worry. From then on we used Paris maps and our navigation skills to get around the city. We made sure the slick Parisians did not get a second chance to prank us.

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Bus conductor

Category : Travel

Nine years ago, when I was new to Delhi, I didn’t know the bus routes very well. Many-a-times, I would hop on a wrong bus, realize my mistake and then get off at this point or that, after posing inane questions to the bus drivers or the conductor, which sometimes irritated them.

On numerous occasions, I got reprimanded by the irate passengers as well, but then, it always takes me an inordinate amount of time to find my bearings at a new place. No matter, how many times, I may have gone down the same lane, it always appears new to me. I don’t think I like most people, take in a road scene all at once…It goes in, in bits and pieces, that quite explains why, I don’t get the complete picture and keep losing my way on the same road!

Once tired from a morning row with my old landlady (for not paying the rent on time) and late night at the office the night before, I fell asleep on the bus. I was comfortably settled in the ‘Ladies only’ section, after making a young man give it up for me, a cool breeze was blowing, the bus was not too crowded, so I felt relaxed and began snoozing. I don’t know how much time elapsed but when I woke up with a start, I looked around and saw that the bus had almost emptied and the scene outside looked completely unfamiliar!

Worried, I inquired from the conductor (a very cheerful, lad of no more than 25!), who muttered “Mehrauli.”

I didn’t have the foggiest idea what “Mehrauli” was. Was it a part of Delhi? Outside Delhi? Had I crossed the border in my sleep? I was in a complete fix. I didn’t know what to do. Sensing my predicament, the conductor coaxed, “Where do you want to go, lady?”

“ITO,” (That’s the Fleet Street of India, where all the newspaper offices are, and I’d joined the Times of India as a reporter a few months ago)
He burst out laughing. “We crossed ITO a long time ago,” he said. Then, reading the alarm on my face he hurried to offer me a seat on the same bus if I could wait inside while he and the driver had their lunch. Not knowing what else to do, I agreed. They jumped off the bus and headed for a small eatery. (PS: They even brought back a juice bottle for me and refused to accept a dime for it!)

Half an hour later, the driver took his seat and the bus started again, slowly wounding its way back to ITO. I thanked the driver and the conductor profusely and hopped off.

Four months later, I was waiting at the same bus stop…this time with a friend …both waiting for a bus to ITO, when I started recounting this Mehrauli incident to her. Before I could finish, our bus came, we boarded it and Lo! It was the same bus and the same driver!

“He’s the driver, I was telling you about,” I nudged my friend.

The conductor also recognized me, laughed and said, “So you have company today. That means you won’t get lost today!”

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Be careful who you ignore!

Category : Travel

Cancun, Mexico is a beautiful place for a sunny Caribbean vacation, but for the uninitiated, getting there can be something of an adventure.

First of all, Cancun’s airport is something between a 7/11 convenience store, a Macy’s department store, and a shopping mall. High-end cosmetics and sunglasses are stuffed in next to cigarettes and candy, just inches from security checkpoints. But that’s not the half of it.

On my honeymoon, friends of my wife’s had warned me to beware of the army of corporate cars drivers, luggage carriers, and van operators who would approach us as we exited the airport, asking where we were going, offering to take us there, offering to carry our luggage. They were emphatic. “Just say no to anyone who talks to you,” they advised. “They don’t work for the hotel or the airport.”

Having exited Cancun’s customs depot and going on our way out of the airport, my wife and I were cautious. We were looking for the one particular person who we were told would be holding a sign with our names on it.

Of course, leaving the airport doors, we were immediately swamped by dozens upon dozens of the “friendly helpers” we’d been warned about. And me, spouting “No, gracias,” with a vengeance, went right through them. No sign, no names. I kept going, even as other people walked beside me and asked what I was looking for. “No, gracias. No, gracias.”

Having made it through the gauntlet, I thought I should see our sign pretty soon. But the crowd of helpers became thinner, and the parking lot began to run out. It seemed like I would be heading straight into the jungle! Finally my wife persuaded me to actually acknowledge one of the helpers, who, it turned out, actually worked for the airport, and was none too happy that I’d been ignoring him all the way. When he finally directed us to our silver service cabs, the company name was different from what we’d been told, and at first I didn’t believe the staffer there that yes, this was our real ride to the hotel. Finally he read our names off of a list, and a representative from the resort company told us that both companies were the same.

The lesson? Don’t be too paranoid, despite what people will warn you about. You’ll get tunnel vision, just like me!

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Van Rental – Major Advantages

Category : Transport

campervanThere may be numerous reasons to rent a van. It is not always that van rental is done for transshipment purpose. Rather, it can be also for a brief accommodation purpose. Large vans allow you to avail an extra room that can be used for lodging in case of emergency situations. During the Christmas time, there are chances that relatives may come to your house for an overnight stay. If you have limited space availability, then renting a big van can help in solving the problem. You can let your guests enjoy stay at the house, while you and other members of your family can shift into the rented man with van in north london.

However, before you avail this option, it is advisable to research thoroughly. Research is done on the basis of rates and availability. The size of the vehicle is also an important aspect. Is the rate calculated on hourly basis or mileage basis? Is the van hire agency fully licensed? All these questions are necessary to be answered prior to the hiring policy.

You can also hire a MUV or chauffeur cars Melbourne for excursion purpose. Suppose you have a small group of 10 members. You have arranged a day’s outing somewhere at the outskirts of the city. You need to rent the vehicle.

But, the loading capacity needs to be focused strongly. As it is an outing, there will definitely be some additional luggage. A mid-sized van can be the most preferred option when you opt for van hire. If you do not opt for a driver from the rental agency, then the charges will be a bit less. However, you need to deposit a copy of driving license (of the driver you select from your side) to the agency.

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Animal House in San Agustinillo, Mexico

Category : Travel

I am generally fearful around wild animals, including mangy street dogs, disgusting, common household bugs, slippery lizards and relaxed, unthreatening deer. My urban-dwelling youth didn’t provide me with many opportunities to confront my fears, and to be honest, I never really sought out opportunities to acquaint myself with the animal kingdom, opting to confine my earliest travels to sheltered concrete paradises like Madrid, Paris, London and New York City.

My furlessy blissful ignorance was about to change, however, as I embarked on a trip to the Oaxacan Coast—though animals were certainly the last creatures on my mind as I hopped into a hippie-filled pesero taxi in search of unfettered sunshine and soothing, lukewarm ocean water.

San Agustinillo is a hot, sleepy and sweet little village to be found on Oaxaca’s intense Pacific Coast. I fell in love with it from the moment I queasily emerged from the rickety pesero, which responded by splashing warm road-dust all over me as it continued to tumble along. All was suddenly quiet. I could see only three gringos sipping coconut milk on the beach, and a few locals frying up sizzling seafood in their ocean-side shacks. Tranquility, I was convinced that I had found you in the rubble.

I was guided to my cabin at the top of a tall, luscious hill. It was empty but clean, and my plump bed was thoughtfully wrapped in a delicate mosquito net. The broad, screen-less windows revealed a thick medley of palm trees, powerful wildflowers, lapping waves and fresh tropical haze. On the front porch, the comfort of a purple Mayan hammock cried out to me seductively from its spot in the shade. Taking note of my sturdy, thatched straw roof, I became convinced that a very calm and nurturing week’s vacation awaited me.

Sadly, my allusions – or delusions – began to rapidly fade in the night.

As if an appetizer for the irritating meal to come, hoards of mosquitoes were easily slipping through the joke of my bed’s net to eagerly suck my blood. I responded by dumping stinky anti-mosquito chemicals all around the bedroom, and burying myself under the bedclothes despite the thick heat.

Then I was awakened by sound of something, or someone, climbing up my straw roof! Suddenly, three cats revealed themselves as they plunged like super-men through my screen-less window to continue their nasty little game in my quarters. They meowed like amplified sirens and hissed and crept closer to my bed. In terror, I threw things, shrieked, jumped, and went into hysterics until they decided to let themselves out.

“Meow,” they called out to me from the brush.
“Aahh!!!!” I responded from behind my mosquito net.

I then realized, in the lamplight, that my cabin was filled up with bugs—including scorpions, crickets, large spiders and gargantuan creepy-crawlies of many kinds (I later learned that my “luxury cabin” had been left unattended and windowless for years, explaining why it was now a zoo of the wretched). A fat cockroach and its lover laughed at me lazily. I responded with more screams and insecticide. At dawn, after a sleepless night, I went to get orange juice out of the fridge, and startled a bat that was clinging to my ceiling. It flapped at me thrice, and then left the cabin.

Hurling myself outside, I realized that the seductive Mayan hammock would be off-limits, as hornets and wasps apparently like to bury themselves in thatched roofs like those hosting my hammock. My cabin of tranquility had become a prison for my fears. Horrified, I ran down the hill to throw myself into the warm ocean. My pathway was blocked, however, by a gathering of mangy street dogs. At lunchtime, my mouth’s path to my fried seafood was blocked by a huge army of flies, and so I abandoned my shrimp in hungry, tired frustration.

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Adventure Travel Service

Category : Travel

Adventure travel service is what travel tour operators or company offers to their customers. These days more people do not only want to experience a traditional travel like visiting a certain landmark locations such as old cathedrals, parks and many other. Most adventure travelers like photographers and the likes seek adventure travel service in getting to wonderful destinations. Adventure travelers take the wilderness as their favorite visits because of the thrill they experienced. Adventure travel is expensive and risk-taking, still thrill-seekers are exploring fearlessly.

The foremost benefit that you will obtain in seeking adventure travel service is the information of the place you want to visit. The information will let somebody know the diverse places you can explore as well as serve as your guide when you reach the place. On the other hand, before you obtain the services you have to employ first adventure travel tour operators. However, before you proceed to the services rendered by the company, you must check first the background of the operator.

It is important that you find the best and trustworthy company that will provide reliable and authentic travel services. If you are looking for travel tour operators online, make sure that they actually exist and have been in the business for quite some time. Apart from seeking adventure travel service provider online, you can also seek local travel service provider in your area.

After you have checked for the company background, it is now the time to ask for the adventure travel service they provide. As much as possible ask the service provider if they know the places they are promoting to avoid pitfalls and risks. Seeking the services serve as safety nets or as a liaison when exploring for the best destination. In addition, services should include tips about different adventure travels, the advantages and disadvantages of certain locations as well as the pitfalls you may encounter.

The uninteresting, the dangerous and the cons of adventure travel are filtered through the help of adventure travel service provider. Adventure travel service is also helpful to group outdoor adventure travelers.

Adventure travel service companies play a noteworthy role to provide their customer an exciting and satisfying adventure travel experience.

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Acting Out My Time in Barcelona

Category : Travel

My husband and I were spending several days in Barcelona, Spain before we traveled around the Mediterranean into France and finally Italy. We landed in Barcelona after connecting from a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Frankfurt, Germany.

Like any traveler crossing several time zones, we were exhausted when we landed. However, our rule when taking an overnight flight to Europe is just to bear through the obvious exhaustion and make it through a full day before “crashing.” Typically, we never have a problem with this because we are too excited to explore the sights and sounds of a new place and forget about how tired we really might be.

We lived through our jet lag in Barcelona just as we did in every other place. We explored the Barri Gotti and Las Ramblas, feasting on the flavors and culture that is Barcelona. We went to bed that night and slept the way people sleep when they have not been to bed in almost forty-eight hours, of course our sleep was fueled with Sangria and wonderful wine. We woke in the morning ready for what would happen next.

My husband was in the shower and I decided to run down to the bar of the hotel and get some coffee Americano and orange juice. We would be going to breakfast shortly, but this would tide us over until we got there.

When I got to the bar, a young Spaniard was tending and he looked to me expectantly. I said, “Two Coffees and Two Orange Juices, par favor.”

He tilted his head and said, “No habla ingles.”

Oh no, I thought, I don’t know how to order this. While fluent in French, I didn’t speak Spanish, not even the basics. So, like any good woman who can think on her feet, I decided to enlist the help of my acting abilities, after all, I did have a couple of acting classes in college. Why not try them out?

I quickly took advantage of the situation. While I knew I was lacking in the local language, I was determined to try. I started to mime Coffee Americano. I pointed to the espresso machine and then tried to look patriotic, putting my hand over my heart and saluting the bartender in full Army style. He pointed to a couple of items before he offered, “Americano? Coffee?”

“Si,” I replied, happy with myself.

Next, I set to the task of ordering freshly squeezed orange juice. I pointed to the juice squeezer and thankfully I was wearing a peach tank top. I pointed to my shirt and made a motion with my arms, meaning “squeeze,” flexing my biceps accordingly. To any of the other patrons sitting in the bar, I’m sure I looked as if I was inviting the bartender to a wrestling match. Really I just wanted some OJ.

When he finally deciphered my message and served me my drinks, I smiled with pleasure and started to make my way back to the room. I had been gone almost a half an hour.

My husband was dressed and ready to go to breakfast.

“What took you so long?” he asked.

“Well, the bartender didn’t know English, so I had to act all of this out.”

“I wish I had a video of that,” he laughed.

We had our drinks and I got ready for breakfast. An hour later, we walked to the restaurant inside of our hotel for breakfast. As we neared the door, I saw the bartender who had waited on me earlier acting as a host in the restaurant.

“Oh no!” I whispered to my husband. “That’s the guy! He doesn’t speak English. It’s going to take us an hour and a screenplay to get a seat!”

My husband steered me forward.

At the door the guy smiled and looked at me, recognition lit up his face.

I decided to speak loudly with hand gestures. “Table for two please. We would like breakfast.” I said every word with enunciation and hand gestures.

The young man grabbed two menus and offered me a smile and a wink. “Of course Miss. Right this way. I presume you would like Coffee Americano and freshly squeezed orange juice with your meal?”

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A Trip to the Dublin Emergency Room

Category : Travel

“’Ave you ‘ad a hard night on the drink then, young lady?” says the voice with the Irish accent for what seems like the fifteenth time.

I ignore him, and allow darkness to enclose me once again. But a set of fingers jabs into my breastbone, and I’m forced to gasp and rip my eyes open.

“Are you Irish or Spanish?” inquires another voice, and I suddenly see a plump man with a clipboard staring down at me. “Here for work or for study?”

“American,” I manage to hoarsely growl. “Here…for….vacation.”

“Oh no,” says the first man. “Well it’s only uphill from here! Tomorrow you’ll be out at Temple Bar enjoying a nice pint of Guinness.”

The thought of that thick, smelly beverage nauseates me in my thoroughly nauseous condition. I push myself upward, for I’m coughing and violently heaving again, with cold sweats running down my face.

“Bloody hell, the American’s ill again,” says the man with the clipboard, and he shoves a plastic bag under my tortured mouth.

I’m in a Dublin emergency room on the first day of my Easter holiday, having just spent the beginning of this semester as a study abroad student in Madrid, Spain. There’s some 24-hour stomach bug going around in Madrid, and boy, have I brought it to Ireland.

I have not had a hard night on the drink, as the local hospital staff has been continuously (and annoyingly) implying. I just got so sick on the plane that I became dehydrated to the point of immobility and semi-unconsciousness. Having run out of airplane barf bags, I was forced to drag myself to the airplane restroom where I lay in a pathetic slump until we landed, and they came to take me away on a stretcher.

“’Ave you got insurance then, young lady?” asks the man with the clipboard.

He’s trying to drip-feed me much-needed liquid, and is violently poking around for a vein.

“What?” I asked, startled. “This…not….America…”

“My, it’s not easy to find your veins then, now is it?”

He’s poking and poking, and the sharp pain keeps me awake. This ER is cold – bitter cold – and I’m trembling heavily. And I’m thirsty…so very thirsty….

“’Ave you been using drugs? Are you in the family way?” asks the first man.

It takes me a few moments to comprehend the second question. I begin to cry. They think I’m a bad girl! Pathetically, I begin to cry, but just then my vein is stabbed, and I feel a cold substance flowing rapidly in my arm, feeding me energy.

I’m left alone. So thirsty. There is an obese, shirtless man sitting on a cot in front of me, and he’s got a big plastic bottle of glimmering ginger-ale.

“Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” he screams, again and again. “I’m in pain Mary!”

I want a drink of his ginger-ale so bad that I’m frothing at the mouth. But the nurse says I can’t have anything to drink, because I’ll get sick again. Now I’m feeling so cold my whole body is shaking, and I can’t take my eyes off the hands of that man, innocently clutching his delicious ginger-ale.

“Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” we yell together. But I can’t convince him to give me some of his drink.

Later that night, a friend from my study abroad program (with whom I organized this trip) comes to pick me up. He gasps when he sees me, because I look so miserably horrible.

He takes me to our youth hostel, where I curl up in a sad lump on my bunk-bed. The pretty sound of Irish accents lulls me to sleep. Twenty-four hours later, I recover completely, and we set off into the hauntingly beautiful Dublin Mountains.

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A big fly in the air?

Category : Travel

It was a regular Sunday morning. Mani and I had returned to the camp after seeing off a bunch of friends at the airport. Two new guests had checked into our white water river rafting camp at Rishikesh (India) meanwhile, while we were busy doing our run over the Ganges river.

We slumped down at the campsite to unwind after doing two hectic days of river, beach and the rapids. Then, sooner than we had expected, it started drizzling. About half an hour later, an eerie silence prevailed, and the wind started to blow again — gaining horsepower, every passing minute. I recalled having read somewhere, that a strange calm always precedes, a mighty storm.

The strong wind swept the sand from the beach and began to create weird, swirling patterns on the calmly flowing river. I had never witnessed anything like this before; a squall of this magnitude in all three years that I’d been going to the mountains. I surveyed the campsite and saw tent poles clutching at the strings. Most tents lay in a collapsed state, and before we could assess the full damage, the wind returned with brutal force, making us scamper for cover under the parachute tent. Before long, even this came down with a loud thud.

Soon it was pitch dark. At three in the afternoon, night had descended on us. The drizzle turned into a wild downpour, blowing ounces of sand into our faces. There wasn’t one dry spot where we could huddle and take shelter. “The kitchen,” Mani shouted over the din, while dashing for the cemented shed. We blindly followed. The shed was a good 200 feet away from where we stood, so we started to run when I saw —- what?

A big fly in the air? “My God! What was that?” I wondered.

“That’s our raft, you idiot” gasped our camp manager, who had spotted it at about the same time as I did it. Forgetting the kitchen, we ran back to the beach to inspect. He was right. It was our raft. 16 feet long, semi inflated, tied to a rock, loaded with paddles, oars, dry box and lifelines, foot pumps and life jackets, floating away from us, at supersonic speed! And soon it was gone….

I heard Mani yelling, “There…there’s the dry box.” Someone ran to retrieve it and brought it back but it was empty. The lid was gone and along with everything that lay inside. The boys scurried around to retrieve whatever they could. Someone also managed to bring down the raft from the tree!

Since there was nothing left to do in the pitch darkness, wearily, we headed for the kitchen and discovered that except for the stove, everything else was gone. Outside, the rain was still lashing harder by the minute. Lightning struck and for a brief moment, the camp got bathed in milky light. We lit a fire with whatever dry wood we could find and spend two liters of petrol igniting it. Plonked on the wet beach, we began sipping piping hot cocoa. As hours rolled into the night, it began to appear like any other day at the camp, old jokes, chilled beer, laughter, and the crackling of a fire!