Even though my visit to Rome was some years ago, it’s a city that left a lasting and favorable impression. At the time I felt as if it wasn’t … [Read More...]
Even though my visit to Rome was some years ago, it’s a city that left a lasting and favorable impression. At the time I felt as if it wasn’t necessary to see any other part of Italy; however, perhaps this assessment is unfair because the country is delightful in many ways. But, I digress. Rome is, for all intents and purposes, an outdoor museum. There are reminders around every corner that this was the center of an immense and powerful empire. I didn’t speak Italian beyond the basics of “yes,” “no,” “please,” and “thank you” but Rome is a place where it doesn’t take too long to find the big attractions and the locals are helpful!
First, I went to the ornate Trevi Fountain. Naturally, I wasn’t alone when I got there. The crowds only thinned out either very early in the morning or late at night. The spot where the fountain now stands was the end point of an aqueduct, and these structures were vital to the ancient Romans. As the story goes, throwing a coin into the fountain while your back is turned means a return to Rome. No wonder so many people stop to visit. For me, that hasn’t happened yet but there’s lots of time!
The Vatican is in a walled enclave inside Rome but is a separate state. I joined throngs of tourists to marvel at Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. There was a series of long corridors to pass through with impressive artwork on the ceilings before reaching the central chamber. Then, the most important moment arrived and I looked up. The first instinct was to grab my camera. Alas, no photography was allowed.
I learned about the bloodier side of Roman history upon visiting the Colosseum. Built by slaves, the elliptical-shaped Colosseum is the attraction that screams: “Welcome to the show!” Roman citizens didn’t have to pay to enter the Colosseum and the contests kept them glued to their seats. The gladiator spectacles were the Super Bowl games of the time. The Romans were cruel to the people they conquered and to each other, so what could slaves, criminals, and prisoners of war expect when they were forced to fight? I was impressed with the Colosseum but shuddered at the same time. Even though ancient Roman society had positive aspects, it was barbaric and unmerciful.
Visiting Japan was like a dream come true. I started taking judo lessons in 1984, and that’s when I learned to count from one to ten in Japanese. I was intrigued with languages and Japanese fascinated me. Later in high school I began studying it under the instruction of a teacher born and raised in Tokyo. In 1992, I found myself in Tokyo with a group of my classmates for an exchange trip. I was anxious when I met my host family. Would my Japanese be good enough? Would they laugh when I garbled the words?
I told them I wanted to visit Akihabara, a section of Tokyo known for electronics. I remember the days when Japan was the most prolific manufacturer of electronic goods, and in the early 1990s Sony was a highly respected brand. I was mesmerized by the glowing neon signs I wasn’t quite able to read yet. Buying something wasn’t possible because Canada and Japan didn’t have the same voltage, so it was a strictly “look but don’t buy” trip. Still, I loved taking a peek inside these wonderfully exotic stores!
Tokyo Tower resembles the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and although it hasn’t gained the kind of international acclaim as its French counterpart, I had no complaints when my hosts took me there the following night. The evening view of Tokyo was stunning from the observation deck. Tokyo Tower is painted orange, not black. To be honest, I thought it was more attractive.
One part of the city I didn’t get to see, but have heard a great deal about, is Yoyogi Park. Located next to Harajuku Station and the Meiji Shrine, the park is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms. Rebellious youths gather in the park on Sunday afternoons to blow off steam and thumb their noses at Japan’s stiff corporate culture. My itinerary was already planned by my teachers who had accompanied our group, and Yoyogi wasn’t on it.
I spent three nights in Tokyo and that wasn’t nearly enough to savor everything the city had to offer. With almost twenty million people, the city is terribly crowded and it’s expensive. But, what I like most about Tokyo is that it’s remarkably safe to walk around at any time. I will go back!
I admit, appreciating Toronto takes effort. The city is still working on its identity — and, frankly, visitors may wonder what is so great about Toronto in the first place. As a native, I can state with confidence that what makes Toronto stand out from other major cities around the world is its multicultural atmosphere. People from over fifty nations now call Toronto home, and while they don’t always agree or get along, they manage to put their differences aside and civil strife is very rare.
Toronto is Canada’s largest city and the most important hub for financial services and tourism. The downtown core is compact and can be navigated on foot, although I would recommend setting aside half a day to walk around. There is the Eaton Centre, Toronto’s largest mall. Nathan Phillips Square is next door, along with the twin buildings of City Hall. I’ve always thought Kensington Market is Toronto’s hippest neighborhood. The coffee bars, restaurants, and quirky shops attract a younger crowd, particularly university students. This area is most lively during the summer months. In fact, Toronto is best visited from May until October.
Winter doesn’t put me off at all. In November and early December, Toronto has a festive vibe as residents prepare for Christmas. I loved to skate when I was a kid and although I don’t do much of it now, I can always go down to the rink at either Greenwood Park or outside Ryerson University if I’m in the mood to glide on the ice.
What’s Toronto’s best attraction? The CN Tower gets my vote, and I don’t say that because I live here. It has been a while since I’ve gone up and enjoyed the view of the city from the Skypod, almost 1,500 feet above the ground. The EdgeWalk goes outside, around the rim of the pod. Maybe 2016 will be the year I finally do that!
Toronto isn’t London, New York, or Tokyo, and it will never be like any of those cities. I don’t think Toronto has to be, in any case. Myhome town has its good points, and one of them is that it’s still remarkably safe to walk around at night. That’s a bonus during the summer!
Your passport is valid. Your immunizations are up to date. The ticket is booked and paid for. Now it’s time to gather the essential items on a packing list. As you probably know by now, airlines tack on monstrous fees for overweight luggage. Pack light – you don’t need that much. Roll your clothes instead of folding them; a suitcase will hold more items that way. Travelling to a destination with warmer weather? In that case very few garments are needed, and if the destination is known to be cheap – Thailand, for instance – leave room in the suitcase for great deals!
Copies of Travel Documents and Money
Protect yourself before leaving home by copying the photo page in your passport. This will save considerable frustration and significant paperwork later on if a passport turns up missing. Bring extra photos for visa applications if, for example, you plan to visit Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.
Go to your bank at home and order some currency of the nation you intend to visit, instead of having to wait in line at an exchange counter when you arrive. The rates offered at airport exchange kiosks are terrible, in any case. ATMs give out local cash, but you’ll be charged a fee every time you do this and the notes (bills) are typically large, and hard to break. An extra stash of U.S. money is a good idea, because it still goes the farthest in many corners of the world. Just make sure the notes are new and without rips.
No matter where you go, a small medical kit is essential! You can fit a whole bunch of supplies in a side pocket of a suitcase or carry- on bag. You might include bandages, tweezers, rubbing alcohol, tape, cold/headache medications, and mosquito repellent (not mosquito coils).Speaking of mosquitoes, malaria and dengue fever are still big problems in Africa, Asia, and the sweaty areas of South America. Taking doses of anti-malaria pills may be necessary before departure and during the trip.And, bring a hat along with sunscreen! Ditto for a pair of sunglasses, prescription or otherwise. Sunlight is fierce in many countries.
Other Useful Items
Toilet paper is a scarce commodity in many places, but is taken for granted in North America. You’ll be in a tight spot in foreign restrooms that don’t have it. You know those little bottles of hand sanitizers in pharmacies? Buy one before you leave. Soap might be unavailable even in nicer establishments; you’ll certainly need some after a squat toilet experience.
Books are handy for long plane and train rides. To block out the noise of the people around you, carry an MP3 player to while those long journeys away with your favorite music. Finally, invest in a small flashlight because power cuts are common in some countries.
What Not to Take
Leave the expensive watches, jewelry, and cosmetics at home. Taking a money belt? Don’t. You might as well hang a sign around your neck that screams, “I’m a tourist, please rob me.”
Because it’s the seat of the United States of America, Washington, D.C. boasts some of the finest museums and monuments in the nation. I got one of the richest history lessons of my life in the relatively short time I spent in the city. There was also the awareness of being in the presence of incredibly powerful individuals: The White House, the Pentagon, embassies from most of the world’s nations, and Capitol Hill were all within a short distance of each other. I found it all quite dizzying. The funny thing is Washington, D.C. didn’t have that big city feeling I experienced in other places; in fact, it felt rather small and provincial. Maybe it was because there weren’t any big office towers.
The Lincoln Memorial was the first on my “to see” list. No other American President has been memorialized in this fashion. At the time of my visit I didn’t know much about “Honest Abe,” which was the nickname Lincoln got when he worked as a store clerk in New Salem, Illinois. As the story went, he walked three miles to a customer’s home to return money he collected by mistake. A massive sculpture of Lincoln faces east and his steady gaze is locked on the long reflecting pool. As I gazed at the statue, I wondered how U.S. history might have changed if Lincoln had stayed home on April 14th, 1865. The “what-ifs” abound to this day.
I moved on to another monument close by, one that’s much darker in color and represents a deep scar on the American psyche, which hasn’t fully healed. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is made of shiny, black granite and is ten feet high at the centermost point. The mood changed – it wasn’t excitement but something more akin to mournful, grave, and humorless. The Vietnam Memorial is inscribed with soldiers’ names – more than 50,000 of them, and locating a specific one can be daunting because they’re engraved by date of casualty and not in alphabetical order. Again, I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War but I learned a lot more about it that day. For Canadians, the Vietnam War doesn’t stir up any discussions or memories. Americans, however, remain sharply divided.
The secret to keeping your legs nice and smooth while you travel is finding the best laser hair removal device for you which will depends on your hair type. The thickness of your body hair will determine how fast you will see the results of treatment. Thicker hair will absorb more laser energy, while finer hair requires more patience.
Laser hair removal machines have pros and cons. The Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X provides quick results, according to user reviews. It’s a cordless machine, and the laser head is small making it easy to treat areas such as the upper lip. On the other hand, arms and legs aren’t so simple.
The Remington IPL6000 ILight Pro Plus Quartz is larger than the Tria model, making it ideal for removing hair from the chest and back. It can also be used for longer periods without recharging it. IPL means “Intense Pulsed Light” and it’s not quite as strong as a laser system, so results will be slower.
The Silk’N Flash & Go has a lot going for it. It’s cheaper than other hair removal devices, and uses pulse light technology instead of lasers. That means less pain for consumers. The good thing is this machine can be used on big and small areas of the body. On the downside, results will take longer to materialize.
In July of last year I decided to fly down to the Big Apple for a short visit. I considered myself to be a seasoned traveler but felt silly because I had journeyed to Asia, South America, Australia, and various points throughout Europe, but New York was a destination without a check mark. I’m glad I added America’s largest city to my list of “have been” places. It took an hour to fly from Toronto’s Pearson Airport to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Before I knew it I had the key to my hotel room in central Manhattan, and was planning what to see for the next three days.
The Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel on Lexington Avenue is a twenty minute walk from Times Square, which I had seen so many times in movies and television shows but not up close. This crossroads is the most visited tourist attraction on the planet, and there was scarcely a minute to stand still and snap some photos because the crowds didn’t allow it. Eventually, I did find a nice corner to get some good pictures. It was a great start to my visit!
Next, I walked down 7th Avenue then along 42nd Street to Bryant Park. I sat there for a while; feeling pleased with myself as I drank some coffee and checked my photos. Deciding to wrap things up a bit early, I went back to the hotel. The next afternoon I went up to Columbus Circle and zigzagged in Central Park. This is the best place in New York to people watch while sitting in the cool shade under the trees. I wanted to see the American Museum of Natural History at Central Park West and 79th Street, because it’s such a famous spot like Times Square. Alas, the admission line was too long (not unusual in a city like New York).
I spent the third day at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the main point of entry for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892 until 1954. The very first immigrant to be processed here was Annie Moore, from Country Cork, Ireland. This was my favorite part of my trip to New York – there’s so much history and it’s fascinating!
I was excited to land in Rio, the jewel in Brazil’s crown. This metropolis is home to the late musician Antônio Carlos Jobim, samba, and the crescent-shaped Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, both of which serve as playgrounds for locals and tourists. Now that I was in Rio, borrowing the cheerful and feisty spirit of the locals, known as “cariocas” was inevitable. It was more than likely I would have to return it when it came time to leave Brazil.
Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Portuguese is a tricky language; some sounds, such as nasal vowels, are very rare in English. Cariocas have a sing-song like accent and following what they say is daunting for the first time visitor to Rio. However, I knew that with a little time and practice, mastering basic phrases would be a cinch.
On a sunny morning I ventured out to see the famed Christ the Redeemer Statue designed and built in the early 1930s by Brazilian engineers with the help of a renowned French architect, Paul Landowski. With its arms outstretched and head slightly bowed, it’s as if the statue is blessing the city of Rio. The Archdiocese of Rio wanted to rekindle the spirit of Catholicism in Brazil after World War I, and that’s how the statue came to be. I was impressed with the statue and the view of the city from the summit! I was equally pleased with the vista of Rio from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, which can only be reached by cable car.
To understand Brazil and for a once in a lifetime cultural experience, I went to see a football (not soccer) match at Maracanã Stadium in the northern suburbs of Rio. I was taken aback at the size of the place and realized I had entered a different universe. Being a spectator in Maracanã wasn’t anything like watching a basketball match at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Brazilians fans whip themselves into a frenzy when a goal is scored, and I couldn’t help but ride the wave. Just think how full the stadium will be once the 2016 Olympics get underway! If Brazil is victorious the ensuing celebration will be unlike anything that has ever been witnessed.
London is so tourist friendly it’s no wonder the city was chosen to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. I like London so much because many of the city’s top museums are free to explore, and this isn’t the case where I come from. I’ve been a history buff for as long as I can remember so I can revel in all the familiar landmarks: Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace.
What is the best place from which to begin a tour of London? First of all, get acquainted with the Tube, or the “subway” as North Americans like to call an underground rail system. Take note, however, that the word “subway” in the UK means pedestrian underpass. All underground lines are color-coded, and the system is divided into six zones. All of the stuff worth seeing in London is concentrated in Zone 1, so getting around won’t be difficult at all. An Oyster card saves money in the long run.
I would say that Trafalgar Square is an excellent place to start a walking tour of central London. This square was named after the naval battle on October 21, 1805 that cost Horatio Nelson his life. Walk north of Trafalgar Square and soak up lots of history at the National Portrait Gallery. To beat the crowds visit early in the morning on any day of the week. The good news is that the gallery is free! That meant I would have more money to shop and eat and in London these activities aren’t exactly cheap.
The Imperial War Museum is off the radar for many visitors, but I consider it to be one of the best in the city. It’s smaller, quieter, and free. This always puts a smile on my face. There are some great exhibits in here, including a sobering reminder of the Nazi persecution of European Jews from 1933 to 1945. It’s not a coincidence that this exhibit is on the museum’s top floor, out of sight of younger children who aren’t quite ready to see the horrors of the past.
Okay, enough about museums. There is so much more to London. Hyde Park is the place for an afternoon stroll. Reflect on everything you’ve seen while having a relaxing lunch at the Serpentine Café.
I like Kuala Lumpur, a city that’s cheaper than Singapore and a tad more conservative than Bangkok. On the way to the city center from the airport, I caught the familiar scent of humid, tropical air I knew so well from previous visits to Asia. This was my first visit to Malaysia, and was anxious to find out what the nation’s capital looked like.
I stayed in the centrally located Concorde Hotel, and felt as if this was the best place to crash for a few days because it was so close to the action. Like the World Trade Centers which used to stand in New York City, the Petronas Twin Towers dominate the skyline of Kuala Lumpur. The external design of these buildings has a noticeable Islamic motif and serves as the headquarters of Petronas – the national oil company of Malaysia. Next to the Petronas complex is the Suria KLCC mall – one of Kuala Lumpur’s more popular centers for material consumption. The place was huge, of course, with six levels and an ultra-modern interior.
I’ve always had a fondness for history, and always make it a priority to learn something about a country’s past. I spent a few hours around the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Merdeka Square (or Independence Square) was where Malaysia declared its autonomy from Great Britain at the stroke of midnight on August 31st, 1957. The British used this square as a cricket pitch, which I suppose isn’t all that surprising. Didn’t they play cricket in just about every country they colonized?
On the east side of the square is the impressive Sultan Abdul Samad Building, which the British used as an administrative center in colonial times. The architecture is Moorish in appearance and reflects the Islamic heritage of Malaysia.
I had eaten great food (Malaysian satay is scrumptious), seen wonderful sights and met nice people in Kuala Lumpur. It was a pleasant taste of a country that I would like to visit again. Kuala Lumpur isn’t so ostentatious and it takes a while to find the city’s charms but they exist, and the infrastructure is impressive. And, many locals speak English! That eliminates any communication worries, particularly for tourists from North America and Britain.