Tag Archives: travel

The Sense of Places

People used to say that cities had a vibe or feel. New York was one of those that everyone said feels different from anywhere else. London, Paris and Rome – all iconic world cities that were supposed to have their own character and feel. But to me, it’s not a “feel”, but a smell. When I get off a plane in Beijing, as soon as I smell the air in the airport, I know I’m in Beijing (very similar smell to Hong Kong, but more “mainland”). Its a certain something in the air that you never sense anywhere else. I associate it with a mix of Chinese spices and preserved food (like those mushrooms!) and humanity.

I recently was in Vancouver, the city I grew up in, and of course, I always associate it with the mountains and water, but as I was walking around the city and what I really remember is the musty smell in the air mixed with the fresh sea air. It’s a combination of the slight tang in the air with the damp that is captured and held in the wood of the buildings and the vegetation.

I used to think that I just didn’t “get” the vibe, but for me, it’s the smell.

How to survive 32 hours of travelling for business

I have certainly learnt my lesson this year. Just because the schedule looks ok on paper doesn’t mean it’s ok. On paper (or on screen if you’ve gone totally “e”), things are only 2 dimensional. It doesn’t take into account that 2 overnight flights in a row are going to wipe you out even if you can sleep on planes or that a 5 hour tour of a city (see my Istanbul post) in a 9 hour window means you are on the go for the entire time or that 3.5 days in Cape Town really IS just enough time for your body to adjust before you yank it back to North American time zone and you have to readjust again. So, here’s what you do if you have to go to a conference halfway around the world:

  1. Do NOT schedule a 5 hour exam the day before you leave (I passed, by the way)
  2. Do take your own travel pillow with you even if travelling business
  3. Do drink loads and loads of water, not alcohol or soda/pop, in addition to the gallons of caffeine you will be consuming
  4. Do NOT expect to land after 22 hours on a plane, 3 takeoffs and landings and 32 hours travelling and go to a briefing session
  5. If you do make it to the briefing session, do NOT expect to stay awake
  6. Do take extra time for your body to adjust to the new environment and take a moment to relax before shoving your body back in a tin can (the plane) rather than travelling for 63 hours and only spending 96 hours on the ground
  7. Do boost your immune system because you will be breathing in so many things on the flight you just don’t even want to know
  8. Do sleep whenever you can, but preferably not during the plenary session when sitting at the front
  9. Do bring your paitience and humour with you and leave everything else at home

On evacuating for a tsunami

I have a friend who used to have disasters follow her or precede her when she travelled. Not your garden variety ones either. We’re talking a typhoon there, a bombing here, etc. Travelling the way we do, our idea of adventure may be a little skewed – all my friends admit that. So, when I heard there was a tsunami warning and then evacuation, fear wasn’t the paramount feeling. Let me start from the beginning.

We were out at a Hallowe’en pa’ina (party/gathering) put on by the local radio station when the concert was interrupted to announce that there had been an earthquake off the west coast of Canada and a tsunami could be headed to Hawaii, but so far, it was just a “watch”; the lowest of the warnings. No biggie…keep drinking my milkshake. Then after one song, they came back up to say it had been upgraded to a warning and they would close down the show so that everyone could go home. Allright. Interesting, but as we were staying across the road, this was also not a big deal. As well, the shopping mall where we were was the evacuation point, so we would have come there anyway.

Travel tip #44: even when travelling for a total escape from it all, it pays to be aware of the local disaster routines – even if all you do is check what the emergency number to call (it’s NOT 911 in all areas of the world)

Eventually, we decided we should go home to at least listen to the news….and pack a bag, just in case. After frantically (slightly) trying the TV, the radio (couldn’t get the shortwave channels) and the internet (wow, heavy traffic that night), we figured out that the Warning meant that certain coastal areas had to evacuate (no, not all of the island is considered coastal). The areas were marked in the phone book.  Wait. No phone book. Drat! Back to the internet…..we finally figured out that we were in an evacuation area…just. The intersection less than 20 feet away from the entrance to the resort was the edge of the evacuation area.

Travel tip #45: always know where your essentials are – passport, ID, medicines

My uncle and I wanted to go take pictures. My aunt wanted us out of there. My other uncle was already packed. We ended up back at the evacuation point, but this time with a car and food and drink and entertainment.

Evacuation tip #1: bring pillows if you have a chance

In the long hours ahead of us, we discovered that the supermarket was kept open, the movie theatres were open, the bathrooms were open and the pharmacy was closed. Also that some cars make really funny overheating noises when they are left running just to hear the radio and maybe for a bit of air conditioning and that some people play their radios much too loudly for a crowded parking lot.

Evacuation tip #6: don’t be a nuisance to those evacuating around you – you may be stuck with them for awhile

There were people trying to read by the flourescent light of the outdoor shopping mall and people trying to sleep laid out on the grassy bits between parking spaces. Others gathered around tailgates to exchange news and share a beer. And lots of people trying to find electrical outlets to charge their computers and ipads. But mostly, it was about waiting patiently as the reports came in from the tsunami warning centre in the Pacific and official government announcements. Thankfully, this tsunami was much lower than expected and there was very little damage. Everyone filed out of the parking lot and went home for a good night’s sleep.

Evacuation tip #10: don’t sweat it. Patience is essential when waiting together.

How to enjoy a holiday in Hawaii

pfft! You’ve got to be kidding, right? Why would ANYONE need a blog post on this topic??


  • arrive in Hawaii
  • enjoy

Ok, so a couple caveats:

  • don’t sweat the tsunami, but do follow the evacuation instructions
  • there are no sea snakes in Hawaii, but the snake eel you just saw still has teeth
  • take both sunscreen and after-sun care (preferably aloe with lidocaine)
  • 11 foot wingspan manta rays don’t have teeth, but are really, really big
  • the volcano looks pretty until it erupts (learn how to read the seismograph)

Yes, my vacation had it all!!!  I’m still sorting through the photos, but will start posting really, really, really soon (as soon as the sunburn cools down – ow!)
Ok, ok, one photo to tease you:

Love London, Love London Not

Ever play that game where you pick petals off of flowers and each one is a vote for or a vote against and wherever you end up, that’s what you have decided? no? well, maybe it was just me. My years in London showed me it was a city you either loved or hated, but noone was indifferent to it. My first taste was in a cold drizzle in Kensington and roast chicken and salad in a bag from Waitrose. Sure, everyone in North America has salad in bag now, but back then, this was a brilliant improvement!

Here’s a listing of the things I loved about London (that I can remember right now):

  • Neighbourhoods – distinct characters, various offerings, fascinating rhythms
  • Restaurants – when you find a good one, it’s pretty good
  • Museums – whatever you want to see, there’s a museum for that
  • Stuff – you want it, someone will have it!
  • Cool places to hang – coffee shops, wine bars, tea places, high tea places, underground clubs
  • Transit – the same air since WWII in the tunnels

And here’s a listing of things we all loved to complain about:

  • Internet service providers – all of them
  • Estate agents – all of them
  • Transit – the same air since WWII in the tunnels
  • Tourists – they just don’t walk at the same pace
  • Restaurants – it’s hard to find a good one!

Travel: St Andrews

I can cross the North Sea off my list. That’s my list of large bodies of water to dip my toes in. In this case I put the whole of my two feet in during a Scottish BBQ. It was a cold and rainy season in St. Andrews. But I was determined to feel the water. Actually, it was surprisingly only at hypothermia temperatures so not really that bad if you only stayed in for 10 seconds. And it led to me finding out that havianas can be very warm once molded to your feet. At least warmer than the surrounding sand.

To be clear, this was THE beach – the one that the famous Chariots of Fire race was filmed on and re-enacted for the 2012 Olympics!!

St. Andrews itself is a lovely little town and there’s really no other way to describe it. It’s more charming than nice and it’s too big and busy to be quiant. There’s enough to do in and around the town (if you take the bus, a cab or have a car) that can keep you and the family busy without rushing and there’s no such thing as hustle and bustle except the queue to take your photo on the stone bridge on the old course. (sorry, I’m not a golfer so i didn’t take a photo.)  the high street is well developed enough that you could actually spend a day shopping, yet you could walk from one end of town to the other in about 15 minutes- 20 minutes if you amble.

Most certainly the influx of university students and researchers combined with the golfers has driven the international diversity of offerings. I found both Jamaican blue mountain and Hawaiian kona coffee in a shop!

Now, unfortunately, the fly in the ointment is that with the golfers, the hotel prices are sky high for fairly mundane, uk village hotels. You would be better off with the b&bs or even the uni residence halls for the prices.

Highly recommended for a visit on any occasion, but be prepared to stop and smell the roses.

Travel: Safari animals-antelopes and others

K, I couldn’t just leave it at beautiful scenary and hair-raising stories about getting to the park! I had to get some animals in there. Travel tip #16: when photographing animals, set your camera to take fast pictures.

One of the first antelopes we saw was this 2-toned one. I’m sure our guide knew the species (he literally knew everything we could ask), but I’ve forgotten what it was. I’m almost sure it’s a Topi.

Then of course, we ran across some springy springboks. You really can’t imagine their springiness until you see it in person. It was too fast for me to capture as we literally saw them for less than a minute as they raced across the road in front of us. See the brown specks in the photo?

And it wouldn’t be complete with a gnu or two. We saw a number of Gnu (or Wildebeest) herds as we were there on the tail end of the migration. Although, as our guide pointed out, the animals didn’t read the guidebooks and they go where and when the food and water are there. While the gnus are quite strange and ugly creatures, they are impressive in a herd.

However, you usually ran across them with Zebras. We were told that they ran together because the animals looked for different things like water and they preferred different grasses (long and short) so it was an advantageous partnership.


Travel: Safari

Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! Sorry, not Dorothy here. But I did see lions when I went on safari in Tanzania (see first post on large kittens here). I can’t believe I haven’t posted a blog on this yet, although a bunch of my travel tips made it into my other posts. Getting to the safari was an adventure in itself. My friends were supposed to come with me, but due to one thing and another, neither of them (2 other girls) could make it, but my tickets were booked and off I went. Since I was travelling alone, I figured that it would be safer to fly from Dar es Salaam to Arusha, the starting point for most of the safaris, rather than taking the umpteen hours bus which could be hijacked, breakdown, and I don’t even want to comtemplate the state of the washrooms after that long.

So, off I went to the airport to wait for my flight…and wait…and wait – yup, delayed flight! ok, no prob – call the safari tour people to tell them I’d be late and get on the plane when it came. The flight path goes a little over the ocean as it swings towards Kilimanjaro…because the Arusha airport was closed (I remember this like it was yesterday). And that was the point that smoke started to fill the cabin and the pilot announced we would have to turn around and land (the bus is looking better all the time, huh?). Ok, so wait for the NEXT flight (I know, at this point, most people would have taken the bus!)…which was a government plane and was fine.

Finally, I get to Arusha and meet my safari guide….who tells me there that the group I was supposed to join left and I would have to wait for the next one – no problem – it was coming in the next day – and another person would be waiting too. But I would have to stay overnight, meet the other person and leave the next morning…..and, please don’t go out in Arusha at night alone. The hotel was fine except for the fact that my room fan wasn’t working and I was on the ground floor and door to the outside balcony didn’t really close….but that’s what cellphones are for, right?

The safari company really did take care of me though – the agent made sure I had all the right equipment (sleeping bag), enough cash (since I hadn’t planned on staying the night), came and checked on me that evening (and told me the other person didn’t make it in so it would just be me going) and had dinner with me so things were looking up.

The next morning, I had to take a car out to a meeting point to meet the group because they were coming from another direction. Spent an interesting half hour waiting at an impromptu roadside market at the crossroads between the road to the Serengeti, Arusha and another park. FINALLY met the other group – a couple of friends from Belgium (girl and boy) who would be my safari companions for the next 3 days.

phew!!!  and we hadn’t even reached the park yet!!! This is where I learned Travel tip #33 How to Enjoy African Time!

Here’s a couple of photos of driving into the Serengeti – I began to suspect that it would be worth it from these views.

[Both photos taken with colour slide film. Travel tip #36: When travelling on safari, expect dust, lots and lots of dust. Travel tip #37: Clean your camera lens often. Travel tip #38: Learn how to use Photoshop clone tool]


Travel: Yet Another Airport

Ever feel like a mouse? Go to an airport. You never really know what the big picture is, there are hidden pathways that you cant see, someone is always watching you and the cheese at the end is dubious. Some airports are better than others, but that’s more a reflection that you will be spending a lot of time in them and someone took pity on the poor travellers than any desire to make them destinations. Noone ever goes on vacation and raves about the gardens in the airport or the quality of the airport day hotels, but oh, to the business traveller, every bit of false normality is welcome.

The small airport. This is the airport that everything is right there in your face. The one I saw was in China…way inwards in China. You can see the ticket sellers, the check-in booth, the luggage handler dude, the security check and the door to the plane all from standing in one spot. There is a nice benefit to all this because you aren’t ever really separated from your group – which is a great security blanket when you don’t speak the language!

The very small airport. There is the quaint airport in this little town in the South-Eastern US. The one that still issues a ticket in a piece of regular paper. I carried that ticket with me to a major hub airport where they said that had never seen that and promptly tore it up and issued a regular one. The airport was also so small that the prop plane pulled up to the door and we just walked out and got on. Oh and the car rental dude had to wait for the plane because it was late!

The developing country airport. Then there are the airports that are too big to be quaint, but too small to really have a lot of the modern conveniences. So the bags were unloaded into a room and then the passengers fought to get in and out of the room and grab their bag (also in China). Or there are the airports where there are no rooms at all (one of them in Brazil – fastest service I ever had though).

The airport decoration. However, no matter the size of the airport, those uncomfortable scoop plastic chairs from the 70s are always in style. These are the chairs that you stick to in hot weather, that give you a hemrroid in cold weather and that you slide off of if you’re not careful. And they are usually orange or dirty white. I still remember those chairs. ow.

The airport constants. These transcend language. There are just things that you don’t do at an airport. It doesn’t matter where I am, I know the security pat down routine. It may vary a little but you still have to hold your arms out, feet slightly separated, wait, turn, wait, explain you are wearing a belt buckle, turn, smile and hope for the best. Interestingly, the only parts that generally change are a) whether they pat down all of your bra, just the middle or just the underwire or b) whether they physically feel your hems/cuffs. Other than that, I swear all security people around the world go to the same “pat down” school.

The luxury elements. But the airports you really remember and appreciate are the ones with business lounges. With hot free food. And hot showers with fluffy towels. Like the one in madrid! Even the toiletries were nice almost to the point that you wanted to take them with you. Then there are amenities like in schiphol in amsterdam with a mini art gallery to while away the time between connections; but only if you are in the right area of the maze…i mean airport. The singapore airport of course has the gardens and the pool and if you get the right angle your photos look like you visited the botanical gardens. The  british airways lounge in heathrow term 5 is very nice. Any of the airports with the massage clinics rate high in my book.

And I’ll leave you with a last thought….if I can write a post this long just about airports, you know I’ve travelled way too much!!!!

Adventures in Climate Change Travelling to the Dirtiest Places

Well, there’s no point in cleaning up clean places, is there?

[WARNING! the following may be distressing to some readers who think travel is pretty and exotic]

Here’s a job tip for you: In the interview, if they ask if you can travel, find out not only WHERE their projects are, but what KIND of projects are they. Example: As I am a Chinese born outside of China, I was excited at the prospect of visiting the Chinese projects and seeing the country for the first time. If they had told me I would be going to mining towns, I may not have been quite so excited.

I didn’t sign up for this job because I wanted to go to exotic Bali (that was just a perk!), but coal mines and landfills? My wardrobe consisted of black jeans, safety shoes, coats that could be rinsed off and wet wipes. Lots of wet wipes. (That should be one of my travel tips!)

Most of the Chinese towns I went to were industrial towns built up around a main mine. I remember scenes as dusty and grey. Seeing how locals lived was like learning a new language! Shops looked different – no neon signs. Towns were often only marked by the “gateway” you drove through (usually red) when you turned off the main road.

It was landfills in Africa. The African safari I went on once in Tanzania is not the same as visiting an African landfill. Same deal with Mexico – it doesn’t matter that there is an agave (for tequila) farm across the road, you won’t really notice it as you are climbing a landfill past decomposing biological matter (and I’m not even talking about the decapitated head – you think I’m kidding, don’t you?).

Africa as well – the main cities like Accra and Dakar were choking on diesel fumes and dust from the unpaved roads or markets or gathering areas by the side of the road. You do get used to it – the same as you get used to the heavy smoke from cigarettes! You either stop coughing after awhile or not!

And landfills! Here’s another tip: if you are going to work with greenhouse gas reduction projects, stay away from landfills (they smell and I still don’t know what’s on the bottom of my shoes), coal mines (ditto) and any type of agricultural waste (pig crap, chicken crap – doesn’t matter who crapped, you just don’t want to have to count it in any season except winter!).

It’s all part of the adventure. The ying to the yang. These were the trips that made life interesting; the colour commentary to the dry spreadsheets of numbers that I dealt with back at the office. These were the true adventures of the carbon warrior!


That’s not fog……