Tag Archives: tourism


Tales of travel: top tips and other stuff thrown in

Here’s a confession- growing up, I secretly wished that I could walk around, unwashed, wearing ugly sandals and flowing Indian clothes. I hoped that one day I too would have licence to stumble about, mouth hanging open, invading people’s privacy by taking pictures of stuff with my very cool and expensive looking camera.

At some point I realized that trying very hard to be different from the masses turns you into a cliché yourself, and that sometimes this truth is evident to everyone but yourself.

So when I met a gang of  under-dressed, tattooed vegans who described themselves as long term travelers, I was intrigued. Maybe I could do the same thing? Maybe I could also make statements like

‘My home is my backpack and I am a nomad.’

and mean it?

Maybe I could finance my travels by making jewelry, reading palms and playing a myriad of instruments? Stick it to the Man once and for all by embracing an obscure Asian religion and changing my name?

Who am I kidding? I has the wrong passport.

Anyway, since none of the  trips I ever made involved acting out my hippie fantasies, I present you my very own top tips to having an awesome holiday:

Don’t be a Dead-weight

Group dynamic is very important when you want to travel with strangers, or even your own friends. You see, there’s leaders, and there’s followers. And then there are dead-weights. Dead-weights are happy to let everyone else make decisions for them, put them on a leash and shepherd them from destination to destination. Dead-weights come into their own when something goes wrong, and are often the ones who complain the loudest about everything. The hostel sucks, why are we looking at this sh*t? I’m tired. This is boring.

Don’t be a dead weight. Just don’t. Suck it in- following someone else’s plans is also a choice in itself. Remember that as you get rained on in the middle of some God forsaken town as you watch the last bus speed away.

Don’t try to recreate home

You know what doesn’t work? Trying to make yourself feel at home. Especially when it comes to food. I see people trying to recreate the taste of home over and over again, only to be bitterly disappointed. So…trying to find a replacement for paneer will not end well. Neither will buying pineapples north of the equator. Ditto for finding aged cheese in India. You can wait till you get home for that stuff. And above all, no-one wants to listen to a 45 minute lecture about how bad whatever it is you are eating is, and how much better it normally is at home. Don’t, just don’t.

Same goes for complaining about transport and people. Yes, we know, your country is awesome and people are nice and no-none stares and you get everything you want and everyone understands you. It’s okay, be strong, its only a few more days till you can go back to your Utopia.

Don’t be embarrassed about being a tourist

Memory can be a fickle thing. So take pictures if you want to. Instagram the shit out of them and use a million #hashtags if you want to. Especially if you visit landmarks that are a must see. Spend half an hour getting the perfect shot of you jumping in the air and touching the top of the building or whatever. Take 15 shots of those pretty flowers that you saw if you want to. Ignore people who tell you that you can download those images from Google and indulge your fantasies about being an awesome photographer (we all have them…) You are on holiday, what else are you going to do?

Seek out your authentic experience as much as you want, but the truth is, if you have a few days in place X, there are only so many ‘hidden’ things you will find. You will probably do touristy, cliched things and you will be happy about it. As long as you don’t obsess about finding the ‘real’ deal. Everybody wants to see the Eiffel tower. Everybody wants to see the Taj. Everybody wants to swim with the sharks. And it’s all been done before.

Remember it could be much worse

Below a certain age, doing anything with your parents is unbearable. But even when you can share a drink with your kin, lots of things you do with your parents fall under the category I like to call ‘obligatory fun’. Like going on holiday. Or going to amusement parks. Or going to museums. Sometimes even having a conversation. But  especially going on holiday.

Because getting lost isn’t just getting lost- its fodder for that ongoing war of attrition between mom and dad.  Screaming matches in public during dinner are not so funny in real life.  Going to a museum isn’t about culture. It’s about struggling with adolescents who see more value in their phones than in whatever dusty crap their folks are shoving their faces into.

Remember that when your plans don’t work out as imagined.

Leave your comments- best holiday, worst holiday, what works for you, what you resent about tourists invading your city…

Amsterdam (aka Pulling a Wayward Foe)

First off, I would like to say that smoking weed is a rather dumb thing to do. I know many people do not agree with me, but to be honest, the only good thing marijuana is for is to sit in a daze listening to hypnotic beats or watching reruns of Family Guy. (What I’m subtly trying to say here is that I do not smoke bhang, okay?)

Back to the story.

Pulling a ‘wayward foe‘ is a term I coined in honour of my dear friend and fellow blogger who shall remained unamed. It basically means planning a journey and then going out of your way to sabotage yourself.

It all started on Friday. I booked my  Saturday, 8.00am return ticket to Amsterdam where I was going to meet my fellow AIESECers and hopefully battle the throng of tourists and junkies in Amsterdam to ‘paint the town red’ (which is impossible, because you can’t show that city anything it hasn’t seen and ten times worse.)

So naturally, I decided that I would set my alarm for seven am and then go out and party until six o’clock in the morning with my insane housemates. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

I woke up the next day at midday. My phone was dead. I had missed my train and I had a touch of the ‘wine flu.’ So I went back to sleep and woke up again at 5.00pm. I jumped out of bed, took a shower and went to the station. Fortunately for me, I had an open ticket and so I could still get the train to Amsterdam.

Upon arrival, I discovered that even though my phone was on ‘roaming’, I could not make any phone calls or receive any texts. So after wandering around the station for half an hour, I finally bought a simcard and called my friends.

They were all epically stoned. The kind of high that people who’s systems aren’t used to anything stronger than a light beer and now coping with massive amounts of high grade, EU approved pure cannabis can get. Eventually, after three hours wandering in the city, taking the wrong bus, we were finally reunited.

If you have ever been with stoners, you know the hardest question for them is ‘What shall we do next?’ So after deliberating with my glassy eyed, giggling brethren, we decided to visit the Red light district.

My soul died a little bit that night. The problem is, there are thousands of tourists in Amsterdam. And they all want to go to see the city’s famous CSW’s. So I had the surreal experience of walking down the narrow streets in single file, looking at all these women posing behind glass windows with hundreds of leering men behind me and more in front of me. They knew we were tourists, and just looking out of curiosity. So what were we doing there? Somehow it seemed sleazier than actually trawling for hookers.


Swans in the red light district (you can't take pictures of the girls, obviously)

One special house had lots of the girls with their doors open (I don’t know if these were the more pricey ones or the more skanky ones, I’ve never needed to make such a distinction before) and it had a weird smell- and we were really, really close to the girls. They could have touched us if they wanted. Or the other way round. One girl pushed my female friend and screamed at her,

what are you doing here? do you also want to get your #*#$ satisfied?

I felt like I was in 18th century Amsterdam, with all the drunk, drooling men and semi-nude girls posing suggestively in their little glass cages. It was embarrassing and sad.

I hear that the only thing sadder than paying for sex is to attend a ‘live sex show’. (We received several offers for a group discount but we decided we did not want to bond in that way.)

After that, the stoners were hungry. So as we were walking back to an undecided destination (still could not answer the question, ‘what do we do next?), one would pop into a fast food joint and get something to eat. Because we were eight people, we effectively ‘toured’ Amsterdam’s fast food joints until about 1.00am.

Finally, after queuing outside a small club for half an hour, we were finally granted entry to push and shove other sweaty bodies and spill our drinks on each other.

And that, my dear friends, is how I spent Saturday night in Amsterdam, stone cold sober, surrounded by drunk tourists and pushy bouncers. And you know what?

It was the best time of my life. (so far this year)


Your very own starter kit

Ps: Amsterdam is a beautiful city, with an unusually high number of drunk tourists. it is also the first time I looked at a city and thought, ‘damn, this country is wealthy.’

I leave you with this picture of a ship that was commissioned by the city to keep the unemployed masses occupied. (Kazi kwa vijana of sorts?)

A ship just for the sake of it

A ship just for the sake of it

Random Confessions

Cute friend: ‘Hey Ms W, have you been writing of late?’

Me: ‘Eeerm, no, not really, not much going on…’

Cute friend: ‘Surely you must have something interesting to say, especially since you are in France’

Me: ‘…I guess…’

So that is the conversation that inspired this post.  Haven’t done much inspirational travelling of late. (Tried booking a trip to Italy but when I saw the prices I nearly vomited, so, well…)

Neither have I had any profound, life changing experiences, at least not that I can openly share without extreme embarrassment, since I choose not to hide behind a secret internet identity…

But I always wanted to write about the mundane things about my life in France, and it seems that the moment is now. So here goes: a random list of the things I find weird, bizzare or hilarious about my life in France:

1. The only French food I have ever eaten is in the school cafeteria: People like to think that France is the gastronomical capital of the world. Maybe it is, I wouldn’t know. My experience with French food is mostly from the school canteen- that is, under cooked meat, ‘mystery’ stews and some over cooked french beans. Oh, and some very, very frightening cheese.

Don’t you have any french friends?

I do. Only that they are the kind that will make pancakes and eat them with ham (still don’t get it, I hate pancakes, even when they call them ‘crepes’ and dress them up with jam and cheese and fish and make a party around them.) Or buy bread and eat it with some greasy pork fat, elegantly packaged and named as something I cannot remember right now- all I know is that it looks like Kimbo with some black sh*t in it.

Why not go to a French restaurant?

Indeed, why not?

Hmm…let’s see. There are all kinds of cheap here. Cheap Chinese, Cheap Lebanese, Cheap Turkish Kebabs (remember those?), Cheap Japanese, Cheap Congolese, Cheap Afghanistani (yeah, that’s right). Only thing missing here is cheap French. Which does not exist. The day I am willing to spend my rent money on a meal in a french restaurant, you will be the first to know.

2. My effin hostel: I live in a hostel charmingly named ‘Bois’ (the forest). After living there for a couple of weeks, we renamed it the ‘Ghetto’. Why? Well, it is dominated by minorities.   Africans on the first floor, Chinese on the second, Indians on the third, and a few misplaced exchange students and more Africans and chinese on the fourth.

Any time I want to lose my appetite I open the windows and let in the smells of ethnic cooking waft up to my room. Or leave my door ajar, and inhale that very special smell that only six foot plus basketball players can manufacture with their shoes. The smell that sticks to the back of your throat, the kind that only a very, very strong shot of whiskey can erase.

Did I mention that we have to share kitchens and bathrooms? All I can say is that we once found bloody intestines in the kitchen. Where did they come from? Lord knows, because I have never seen anyone buy a live animal here.

3. Embarrassing Africans: It’s not news that we have a poor reputation here, and almost no respect (with the whole thing about the entire African economy being the same as Mexico’s and all that..) but the brothers ain’t helping at all. Any time anyone mentions a story about harrasement, sexual or otherwise, you can bet that somewhere in the story is ‘and this black guy..’.

I’m not saying that all black people behave as though they come from the lawlessness of the Congo forest, but, you know the deal with stereotypes.

One good thing at least, is that no one messes with me. (At least not yet). Though the only people that make me uncomfortable are these gangs of Moroccan/North African boys, who’s moves I  can never predict. And who are contenders for the ‘Most violent/misbehaved’ immigrants, right with the best of them.

4. My classmates: When I was applying for my masters studies (I know, how pompous..) I had these images about how I would suck the knowledge from my wiser, OLDER and more mature classmates. Oh, how I was wrong. I am in a classroom full of fresh faced, barely-out-of-their-teens young’ins like me. On the plus side, the parties rock. On the down side, I am in an intellectual wasteland.  Topics of conversation include: ‘Did you notice that Saad has a big belly like an old man?’, to ‘I wish I had more time to go shopping!’. Spoilt for choice, aren’t I?

5. The old men: I don’t know, the last time I looked at my pictures, I don’t think the word hooker came up. But it doesn’t stop wrinkly little french guys asking what my price is, or desperate middle aged men offering me lifts in their flashy convertibles…

Of course, there is a lesson in all of this. Diversity, multicultural understanding, tolerance and all that jazz. Right now, I cannot see it. But then again, I’m sure that it’s one of those things I will understand once I leave and I can tell everyone, ‘Back when I was living in france…’

The Brown People Invasion of Budapest: Vampires, Cheap Beer and a Whiff of Communism

You know what, Fuck being prepared.

After reading so much about all the ham fisted tourist cons waiting for me in Budapest, I was terrified. So Shit scared about everything that even buying a cup of coffee needed a reconnaissance mission.

I was all in anal.

Every time I bought a beer, I waited, heart in mouth, for the doors to close and for some truck sized skin head bouncers to threaten us with the Sicilian ‘swim with the fishes’ line.

Well, just like the beautiful blondes who are attractive because-of -brains and-personality-and-not-chest-size who did not materialize, none of the tourist traps came to pass. I still have all my organs.

Blame it on the fear mongering Americans who dominate the internet.

So, what happened in Budapest?

‘This place is dirty.’ That is the first thing ‘Antonio’ said when we got off the train.  (I forgot to mention that I was travelling with my very good Colombian friend.And no, we haven’t started importing cocaine.)

And he was right. But not the live, decaying dirt that plagues many cities not managed by Stepford Wives Union. Budapest (or as we later learnt, the Pest part of  Budapest) is grimy. With years and years of accumulated soot that stains all it’s buildings a dark grey-ish color.

It was like stepping into a weird time warp universe.

The whole place had that brooding, cynical feel that all vampire movies (except for the sparkly pre teen wet dream that is Twilight) seem to have.

Count Vlad's summer home

And then, because we spent time reading about stupid American tourists, we forgot about the weather. Which was freezing.

Like this fellow, at the top of the highest hill in Budapest. perfect time to visit? A windy, -10 degrees Celsius day, of course

And a testament to Stalin’s do it big philosophy:

And of course, the museum…of the World War 2. I might need a citation, but Hungary basically supported Germany in both world wars. During world war 2, the boys at the top realized they had made a mistake again (after grabbing neighboring territories and basically participating in the Facist/Nazi orgy up to 1944), tried to join the winning team in secret. Hitler, like most people, was not very happy with this Judas move. So he taught them a lesson by flattening their city,wiping out  the Jews and setting up a puppet government to keep an eye on the traitors.

Destroy the Minorities. Dominate the world

(Okay, I enjoyed that waaay too much.We all done things we not proud of, okay? Don’t judge.)

2011: Possibly effeminate underwear model. 1940s: blond killing machine sent to destroy the turncoat Hungarians

And just in case you still think the world is a happy place with sunshine and butterflies…..

Apparently all that would remain of you after an explosion.

death by hanging

The height of the human slaughter

Yeah, well, it can’t be  fun and jokes all the time I guess.

Some bad ass World War two artillery

Eventually Budapest stopped sulking at us. And just like in those movies where the rebellious kid is finally accepted by everyone, we warmed up a little bit to her.

We stood on her huge bridges and wondered if we could find our very own non-gay Edward (n my case) and a taste of blonde double d’s (In Antonio’s case). We drank our coffee in brooding silence like the locals and rode the bus stone faced.

We made peace with each other. Especially after Hungarian goulash dumplings,  incredibly cheap beer and this vanity project:

Built for the hell of it