exploration http://www.exploration-online.com Thu, 13 Jul 2017 13:02:27 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Solo In Seattle (and Portland) http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/13/solo-in-seattle-and-portland/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/13/solo-in-seattle-and-portland/#respond Thu, 13 Jul 2017 12:03:49 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7535 Travelling by yourself is a strange experience. On the one hand, you have the freedom to get up when you want, go where you want and complete control of the trip. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of downtime when minutes by yourself feel like hours. I found this out when I travelled to Portland; originally just to see the incredible band Fleet Foxes, but then I decided that while I was travelling up the West Coast, I should go to the highly-recommended Seattle too. This turned out to be a great decision, turning a two-day trip into a five-day exploration of these two fascinating cities. This was also my first solo voyage to a strange new place, which filled me with a mixture of excitement and nerves.

Portland was an interesting city but not really anything like I expected. When we touched down, the skies of Portland were overcast and grey, not too dissimilar to my home country of England. There weren’t any major touristy attractions per se: it felt like an ordinary city, so wandering around the place by myself I wondered what the draw was to this renowned destination. The first stop I made was Powell’s City of Books, which boasts of being the world’s largest independent bookstore, and it was so huge it felt like you could spend days absorbed in the copious amounts of literature.

Walking down the grey empty streets of Portland, the sudden reminder that I was travelling by myself struck me and I felt the most lost I’ve felt since initially wandering around San Francisco the day I arrived in America. After a quick bite to eat and a visit to my hostel I was feeling more confident, but sometimes this kind of travelling can overwhelm you when you realise how entirely alone you are.

While Portland is indeed a cool little city, one of the friends I met that day put it best when she said it’s more about the culture and food, and not so much the sights. In this regard, Portland is an extremely interesting place with great restaurants, a good music scene and some lovely spots to just chill. Some of my favourite spots to eat include: Sizzle Pie, Portland Penny Diner, Salt & Straw Ice Cream Place and Voodoo Doughnuts. There are also some beautiful spots like Washington Park with its beautiful Rose Garden and Mount Tabor.

Mt Tabor, © movingtoportland.net

The difference in atmosphere, setting and even weather from Portland to Seattle is incredible. Seattle is the epitome of a tourist-friendly city — a big sprawling market, the Space Needle and plenty of other shops and sights to see. I got the extremely touristy City Pass which let me see the five big attractions in Seattle for $79, definitely worth it but maybe don’t cram it all into two days like I did. The Space Needle is obviously overpriced, even if you buy a single ticket for it, but it’s worth experiencing as it’s got an interesting history and a fantastic view of the whole of Seattle. The other four tourist destinations of the City Pass were the Chihuly Garden & Glass, a greenhouse filled with plants and sleek glass sculptures, and the Seattle Aquarium which was a step above any other I’ve been to. The ferry is another perk of the City Pass which takes you on a one-hour-long tour of the beautiful city with interesting trivia, and finally my personal favourite: the Museum of Popular Culture which boasts a Fantasy exhibition, a Horror exhibition and a new Star Trek exhibition.

The City Pass kept me busy during the day, along with my hostel’s location in Freemont, which is a fascinating area with bizarre art installations and a quirky neighbourhood. It was at night I feared that I’d be at a loose end, as it’s not necessarily safe to be wandering around an unfamiliar city during the dark but I didn’t want to be stuck inside the hostel for the duration of my evening. Luckily, the people at my hostel were very friendly and we travelled to Gas Works Park, which offered a beautiful view of Seattle and a chance to talk to others. So my advice to those travelling alone, something which I will experience properly when I travel from New York to San Francisco in 15 days, is talk to those surrounding you – whether that be the others at your hostel or people you meet at events. This will help you in the dark evenings and provide you with some company on the otherwise, at times, lonely trip. Everyone should travel alone at some point, it’s an experience I definitely recommend.

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‘The Cow’ of Queenstown, New Zealand http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/10/the-cow-of-queenstown/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/10/the-cow-of-queenstown/#respond Mon, 10 Jul 2017 12:57:37 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7493 At the close of an almost three-week road trip around New Zealand’s South Island, I found myself alone in Queenstown for the final night of what had been an incredible adventure. I wish I could have given myself longer to explore the gem that is Queenstown, but with it being my last stop on the tour, and as a consequence of my tendency to take a lot of detours, I simply ran out of time. Ironically, of all my destinations, Queenstown was the one place for which I had a long list of recommendations. In my phone, you would find a reminder labelled ‘Things to do in Queenstown’, under which I had added suggestions from everyone I’ve ever met who’d been there. The famous Fergburger was somewhere high up on this list and having now been there I can see why everyone raves so highly about it. There is little more I can say that hasn’t already been said; my burger was jam packed with flavour, the meat was succulent, the bread was fresh and it was all round unquestionably worth the wait.


Fergburger (source: Tripadvisor)

When I arrived in Queenstown and scrolled through the various suggestions — most of which were standard tourist attractions — an item on the list that caught my eye was ‘The Cow’, solely for the reason that I had no idea what it was referring to. Before endeavouring to find out more about it, I wandered around countless art galleries (another recommendation on my list). Whether art is your passion or not, the numerous galleries on offer in Queenstown are really worth a look; most showcase local artists’ work and I’m confident that if you were to stroll into any of the galleries found there you would come across talent to suit even the most individual tastes. Anyway, back to the point (see above for a perfect demonstration of my continual digressions) — after browsing the galleries and shops, I saw tucked away at the end of a street the words ‘The Cow’, on what appeared to be the sign of a pub. I walked over to investigate and on closer inspection I learnt that ‘The Cow’ was a pizza and pasta restaurant. Having solved the mystery, I considered returning for dinner later that evening and I moved on to take advantage of happy hour by the harbour. Why not?

‘The Cow’ of Queenstown (source: youmakemeswoon.files.wordpress.com)

I umm’d and ahh’d between a take away from the illustrious Ferger (as I had begun abbreviating it to), and dining at the mysterious ‘The Cow’. I decided to make the bolder and more decadent decision of returning for a ‘proper’ dinner at the latter. I say bold because, as stated, I was alone, and had only recently discovered what dining under these circumstances entails. It is a liberating experience to enter a restaurant alone for dinner and I would encourage solo travellers not to shy away from eating out because they fall into this category — a warning, though, it does usually prompt the odd bizarre look from other customers. With no regret, during my trip I made a habit of solo dining and thus had quickly become accustomed to the kind of glances directed at a diner such as myself, who was usually ushered to a corner table to sit and read with a large glass (bottle) of red wine. It sounds depressing but honestly it isn’t — try it for yourself.

Nevertheless, I am delighted to say that the staff at ‘The Cow’ were most welcoming! After entering through a stable door (literally, the entrance was a stable door), I requested my table for one — “yes that’s right, just ONE”. The restaurant had the feel of a quaint country pub or alpine lodge; it contained wooden booths and had a real buzz as you walked in the door. I was seated in one of the booths next to a couple — “fab, just what I wanted” were my first thoughts, however, we shortly became engrossed in conversation. A few minutes later, the waitress returned. Who’d have guessed, another singleton was joining our table! I’d ordered the specialty pizza (plus wine) and was really enjoying my new-found company with the Canadian couple from Vancouver, so much so I felt a tinge of sadness as they announced their departure for the evening. I got over that quickly because before I knew it, couple number two had arrived (the Kramers) and had been seated at the same table. In minutes all four of us were on a first name basis, with banter and American politics filling the air, oh and not to forget, the mouth-watering smells coming from the kitchen. What a night this had turned out to be, and it was only 7:30! The rest of my evening continued in a similar fashion with more pleasant conversation, excellent pizza and plenty of wine. Of all my nights dining alone, this was by far the best.

‘The Cow’ (source: www.eatout.nz)

To sum up, I’ll find any excuse to tell my road trip stories; I really like wine and pizza; and my stranger-company that evening was fantastic (far better than that of the people in my hostel, but that is another story). In all seriousness though, ‘The Cow’ was a delightful treat. I’m grateful to whoever it was who encouraged me to put it on my Queenstown list and so thrilled to have actually made it there — more than can be said of the rest of my list. So, should you ever find yourself in a similar predicament (and I appreciate how unlikely that may be), just remember — for delicious pizza and great company without the queues and crowds of tourists, ‘The Cow’ of Queenstown is where you want to be. Add it to your list.

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Cambodia: The Splendour And The Suffering http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/09/cambodia-the-splendour-and-the-suffering/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/09/cambodia-the-splendour-and-the-suffering/#respond Sun, 09 Jul 2017 09:52:12 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7511 For many, travel is an escape from day-to-day life, a chance to explore other countries, and whether it’s the freedom of the open road for months on end or a quick holiday, it’s a way to leave behind the troubles and responsibilities of home. For me, it has always been a taste of unparalleled independence and liberty. Most tourists will therefore dedicate their time to seeing the sights, relaxing on a beach, or finding adventure — but in order to understand a new country and culture, it’s not enough to explore their art or cuisine. The truth of a country lies in its history, and while it’s tempting to see only the glory and gloss over any uncomfortable episodes, it’s not enough.

A prime example of this is Cambodia, home to the magnificent Angkor Wat and paradise beaches — but also to the terrifying dictatorship of Pol Pot. During the 1970s, his regime saw approximately 25% of the Cambodian population drawn from society either for manual labour or into concentration camps before eventually meeting their death in a 4-year period commonly remembered as genocide. And yes, it’s heart-rending. It’s awful. But in order to truly appreciate the beauty of the country and the spirit of the people, it is necessary to see what they have suffered and survived — in truth, it makes the beautiful parts shine brighter.

The entrance to Tuol Sleng

I do not argue that when visiting Cambodia sadness should be the overwhelming experience — simply that all visitors should give one afternoon to understanding and respecting the dark past of the country, and the way it is overcoming that history. In the centre of the capital, Phnom Penh, lies Tuol Sleng, one of many schools that were converted into detention centres for the detainment and torture of prisoners. It’s a devastating, bleak place. It is now an emotive genocide museum: graffiti from ex-prisoners covers the walls; some classrooms are filled with cells barely bigger than a bathroom cubicle, while others hold electric beds; thousands of men, women, and children who were about to die stare blankly out from black and white photographs. The experience itself is harrowing, and I cried each time I stepped inside the stone walls topped with barbed wire as the pain radiating from those buildings overtook me. But it has to be seen. It is a way to respect those who suffered, as well as their families — and an unforgettable testament to not only the regime but the subsequent revival of a country.

The faces of Tuol Sleng

The Tuol Sleng cells

The remembrance doesn’t end with Tuol Sleng, however, and it is possible to follow the trail of the condemned souls from the prison to their final destination: Choeung Ek, otherwise known as The Killing Fields. These lonely fields just outside of the capital also make for a disturbing and difficult visit, as the site is littered with mass graves while a memorial tower looms, filled with skulls and scraps of clothes. The air is heavy with the desperation of human suffering even 40 years later, and contemplating both the pain of prisoners and the cruelty of the dictator leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of any tourist.

Cheung Ek Memorial

So why subject oneself to reliving past tortures? Why enter such dismal and distressing places? With all that a country like Cambodia has to offer, why spend your time in Tuol Sleng or Choeung Ek? It’s the same reason that millions have visited Auschwitz; it’s the same reason we lay flowers on war memorials. For me, it is to show respect, rather than morbid curiosity or a mere sense of duty. These are not our loved ones and this is not our native land, but we are all human. This history of dictatorships and genocide is a global one, from the camps of Germany to the desaparecidos of Argentina and we cannot — and should not — ignore it.

A country is shaped by its collective history, and when visiting we should not only respect that memory, but learn from it — and find that, in not overlooking a painful truth, it is easier to understand that nation. It also makes the positivity of the people even more incredible, and the beauty of the land even more poignant; history is not just a reminder of the bleaker sides of human nature but of our resilience in rebuilding. This is why it is important to take one day, or even just one afternoon, out of the joyous reprieve from life that holidays and travels so often are, and take time to really look at the country. Whether visiting Cambodia’s genocide museums or any other country with a troubled and traumatic past, we must take the beauty and the pain, the suffering and the splendours, and let respect temper our desires for adventure and escapism. Our world is one of contrasts: all that is light shines more brilliantly after the darkness, and the good seems greater in the face of the bad.

All photos are the Author’s own

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A Whale of a Time: Swimming with Humpbacks in Bazaruto http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/06/a-whale-of-a-time-swimming-with-humpbacks-in-bazaruto/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/06/a-whale-of-a-time-swimming-with-humpbacks-in-bazaruto/#respond Thu, 06 Jul 2017 12:29:12 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7628 In the summer of 2015, along with my older sister, twin brother and our mum, I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to South Africa and Mozambique, as part of our birthday celebrations for this special year. Us ‘twinlings’ were turning 18, our sister 21 and our mum 50, all in the space of two weeks. Along with a legendary surprise party at home, we decided that we would celebrate these ‘landmark’ years by going on safari and then diving in Southern Africa. Whilst the safari was incredible, the diving was not quite what we expected…

An angel fish © Chloe Sykes

After five days of breathtaking safari, we took a short plane journey to Mozambique’s only airport, where we were escorted to some sort of VIP lounge, as we waited for our transfer to Bazaruto Island — our home for the next 5 nights. Expectations were already high, as the weather was beautiful outside, and the photos dotted around the lounge promised tropical islands not too dissimilar from the ones you see in films. After waiting for rather a long time, we were packed into some jeeps and driven through endless narrow, windy villages to get to the boat to take us to the hotel. There was evidence of globalisation everywhere, with little shacks selling Coca Cola and mobile data popping up on the sides of the road. Little children laughing and smiled when we drove past, running after our car, and waving to us as they piled out from school.

When we arrived at the boat, we were asked to remove our shoes and bags, and we boarded with a few other families. When the weather conditions are too rough, guests can be transported to the island resort by helicopter but, luckily for us, the water was just perfect. We were bombarded by hawkers trying to sell us trinkets and scarves for rather expensive prices, which is not uncommon in many areas of Mozambique and Africa. After a 30-minute boat journey, complete with drinks from the ice cooler, we arrived at Bazaruto Island. This is a very small island, completely cut off from the rest of Mozambique, with its neighbouring island still a good few kilometres away by boat. This makes for a very peaceful, undisturbed stay. Guests can play in the stunning infinity pool, go sandboarding, relax in their luxury spas, or even partake in a day of golf. As well as the diving, the dive centre also provides boat tours and snorkel excursions, making it ideal for families.

The infinity pool at Bazaruto Island © Chloe Sykes

But back to the boat… there was a problem. The tide was too far out, meaning the boat could not reach the shore. Undeterred, the staff fetched a little wooden boat and piled a few of us on at a time. I do believe it would have been faster to walk to shore, as the water only came up to knee height, but their great efforts were definitely appreciated. Our arrival could not have been more humbling though, with traditional dancers playing us in on the drums, whilst the women showcased their dance moves in the burning hot sand.

It was obvious as soon as the island came into view that we were in for a very luxurious few days. Our bags were loaded onto golf carts soon after we had checked in, and we followed behind them. The apartment was astounding, complete with a freestanding bath in the middle of the main bedroom, a separate living room and open plan kitchen, and spare bedroom with en-suite. Most stunning of all was the view from the terrace and the gorgeous sunsets every night. I think we were all completely surprised with what we had secured — perhaps we had been upgraded! I must point out however, that this was an all-inclusive, luxury resort island, perfect for family holidays, but not so ideal for those on a budget.

Spotted in the coral reef. Photo © Chloe Sykes

Our main reason for coming to Bazaruto, and Mozambique, was to try and catch a glimpse of the humpback whales and stingrays that surround the islands. After acquainting ourselves with the dive centre and instructors, we were ready to go the next morning. After having the pleasure of diving in many different countries, the standard at this centre was not quite what we were used to. As most divers are aware, you should always try to assemble your own gear so that you can take responsibility for yourself and be comfortable with your equipment. To our great surprise, our instructors assembled our gear for us for every dive, which although is considerate in principle, was a little disconcerting. Of course we checked ourselves anyway, and had no problems with any of the gear during the dives. This was not the only shock though, as we had been promised lavish coral reefs and an abundance of whales we could search out every day with trained guides. The reefs however, were not as abundant in marine life as we had hoped, although we did find some little Nemos and Dorys here and there.

Catching a glimpse of the humpback whales © Chloe Sykes

The true highlight of this part of our journey though, was our snorkelling encounter with the humpbacks. On the penultimate day, when we were unable to dive due to fly times the next day, we decided to take a boat safari to try and find the whales. And find them we did! Keeping up with them proved to be a real challenge as they are super quick! Watching them breach out of the water was a sight to behold — the sheer size of them on the horizon was remarkable, if not a little emotional. Finally we got close enough to jump in. The guide called me over, asked if we wanted to go in, and we were in the water in the next 10 seconds. After flailing around for a couple of minutes frantically looking for them, a mother and calf emerged beneath us, with the sun’s rays illuminating them perfectly. It was probably the greatest experience in the water I have ever had. Their whale calls to each other were deafening, and had been teasing us all week throughout the dives. Although it was a shame not to encounter them fully submerged, I can’t complain about snorkelling with the beauties. I was even told that we were the first guests to ever swim with the whales, making the experience all the more unique. It was whale worth it.

Featured image © Chloe Sykes

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Eid in the Middle East http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/04/eid-in-the-middle-east/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/04/eid-in-the-middle-east/#respond Tue, 04 Jul 2017 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7603 Last week, the global Muslim population celebrated the end of Ramadan, having looked forward to the end of the fasting month, when Eid-al-Fitr is celebrated. This annual and widely-anticipated event marks the end of the abstaining period and is celebrated differently all over the world. Of course, the motions of early morning Eid prayers, donning your best clothes, gathering with family and indulging in feasts are all the same, but each country has its own cultural elements added into the mix.

The night before Eid, in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, men prepare to sight the moon to see if the fasting month has ended. If there is a new moon, then Saudi and the rest of the world will prepare for Eid-al-Fitr

Below is an insight as to how different people celebrate Eid throughout the Middle East.

When the new moon is sighted, Eid can begin. Photo © Jim Hankey

In Baghdad, Iraq, the day begins with the morning Eid prayer. Muslims gather together to pray at the site of a bomb attack.

Iraq Eid prayer, photo via aljazeera.com

Amidst air strikes, worshippers gather at mosques along the Gaza strip.

Photo via deccanchronicle.com

In Pakistan, men prepare to give out balloons to young children following prayers.

Photo via aljazeera.com

Jordan also maintains this tradition, as children play with balloons on the streets of Amman.

Photo via REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

In war-torn Syria, children enjoy a makeshift playground set up by adults for the occasion.

Photo via bbc.co.uk

A surviving tradition that’s centuries old is still celebrated in the Gulf. Believed to have begun in Egypt, UAE police forces fire five cannons on Eid day.

Photo via uaeinteract.com

In Qatar, there is a huge celebratory fireworks display for the locals to enjoy.

Photo via marhaba.qaIn

Tehran, an Iranian man buys sweet delicacies to eat after the Eid meal.

Photo via xinhuanet.com

Feature photo via unsplash.com

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An American in Rome http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/02/an-american-in-rome/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/02/an-american-in-rome/#respond Sun, 02 Jul 2017 12:18:53 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7351 As an American transfer student studying full time in Rome, I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over Europe by myself and with others. With Rome as my home base, there has been a very fun and, at times, challenging transition process. This is the beginning of a series discussing this transition and what other Americans visiting Rome should expect.

When I decided to move to Rome, I thought that my multiple visits and extended stays here would have fully prepared me for the transition, but I was far from right. I come from an incredibly small town in the incredibly small state of Connecticut in the United States; uprooting my life to a city as large as Rome was definitely a shock to my system. Rome in particular however has several distinct features that, as an American, require some adjusting to. For this first article in the series, I’ll outline a few of these:

1) You have to be prepared to walk essentially everywhere

The neighbourhood I live in, Trastevere, has such a distinct and authentic character that attracts many tourists looking to avoid the clichéd and often busy tourist areas. There’s tasteful graffiti, vines winding up buildings, local Italians leaning out of their windows or on their balconies, and little of the industrial hubbub of downtown. However, the public transport in this part of the city is lacking at best; you really do have to walk almost everywhere.

Don’t expect vast roads with multiple lanes; prepare yourself to have to squeeze through narrow cobbled streets on a regular basis.(Photographer: Katherine Scibilia)

While there is one tramline that divides Trastevere almost in half, the buses couldn’t possibly fit through the narrow, almost comically small streets that cut through the neighbourhood. Cars and Vespas do manage to get through these streets somehow, but as a student or a tourist, these are usually not an accessible means of transport. In my daily life then, grocery shopping, going back and forth to classes, meeting friends etc, I began walking seven to ten miles (roughly eleven to sixteen kilometres), each day on average.

Coming from a small town where everyone uses cars and there aren’t even pavements available should you choose to walk, this was definitely a major change. Living near New York City and Boston, I was used to visiting cities and preparing for a long day of walking, followed by a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t however used to making this a part of my daily routine. This may be stereotypically American, but our propensity for driving everywhere certainly was a nice luxury growing up.

Katherine 1

There’s no shortage of attractive buildings in Rome; just wandering around will expose you to so much more via back streets, bridges and tiny alleys. (Photographer: Katherine Scibilia)

However, walking everywhere has not only made me fitter, but also gave me a chance to interact with my city. I believe you can’t really know a city until you’ve walked through it and got a sense of its personality, because each city really does have its own aura or individuality. To any tourists, I highly recommend walking around Rome as much as possible, because no matter which part of the city you’re in, you’ll inevitably run into an impossibly beautiful church you’ve never heard of, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or some sort of local attraction.

2) The rumours about Mediterranean men are (sometimes) true

Moving to Italy, everyone I talked to warned me about how forward the men would be. From my visits previously, I knew what they were referring to. However, this is still something that definitely requires some getting used to when you encounter it every single day.

As women walking down the street in Rome, my friends and I have all experienced the blatant staring, the winking, the sly comments, and the occasional aggressive man. When I was in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast on holiday with my family, a man I didn’t know followed me home from the beach to our villa and waited outside the gate. I’m fortunate that nothing worse happened.

You can expect this sort of behaviour and unwanted attention almost every day from shopkeepers, shouted from cars driving by, or the random passer-by. Eventually, you get used to it and know when to dismiss it and when to proceed with caution and raise your guard. In every city though, you should have a higher awareness of your surroundings and should simply be alert to anything that might be suspicious. This was something I learned very quickly and that my mother from New York City imparted to me very early in life.

Katherine 4

Don’t let rumours put you off this brilliant city. Instead, just bear in mind that you’re likely to encounter certain behaviours and customs you aren’t used to. (Photographer: Katherine Scibilia)

That being said, however, for every one bold, overfriendly man that I have encountered in Rome, I know or have met three more who are kind, friendly, decent, and welcoming. Romans in general are a very enthusiastic, expressive and outgoing people who make visiting or living in their city so pleasant. Most people are excited that you bring a different cultural perspective to their city and simply want to welcome you. Men and women here tend to be more expressive with their feelings than certainly most Americans are accustomed to, but this can be a wonderful thing when you’re finding your place in a new city. As a result of the warmth and generosity of so many Italians that I’ve met, I’ve been afforded a more personal look at the city and have experienced it in a way that I couldn’t have done on my own.

To any Americans – especially American females – travelling to Rome, please no not let these overbearing men taint your experience or scare you from interacting with people; half of the experience of Rome is the people that you meet here.

3) A different sort of diet

Italy is well known for its sumptuous, carb-filled foods, however, unfortunately, it’s not practical when you’re living here to eat pasta and pizza for every meal. That means that I had to get used to a true Roman diet, which is incredibly different from my diet growing up.

To start with, ‘grocery stores’ in the traditionally American sense are very rare in the centre of Rome. I’m used to massive supermarkets where you can buy literally almost anything you might need in your daily life, and a lot that you don’t. In Rome, and especially Trastevere, there are mostly markets that either specialise in quick, on-the-go junk food or fresh, expensive foods; shopping for weekly groceries at either of these types of markets is impractical, especially when you factor in a college budget. The best solution then is either Conad, a decent-sized supermarket located in Trastevere, or Pam, a slightly smaller supermarket across the Tiber River.

Katherine 5

The food in Rome may not be what you’re used to, but what’s on offer isn’t exactly a poor substitute! (Photographer: Katherine Scibilia)

Even at these ‘supermarkets’, however, it’s hard to find many things that Americans consider customary. For instance, over the almost year that I’ve lived here I’ve needed, at different points, pickles, peanut butter, batteries, pancake mix and turkey meat, and was unable to find them even in these larger shops. They’re things we take for granted in our shops back at home. While these certainly aren’t staples in my diet, I do find myself adjusting recipes or things that I want to cook based on the unavailability or high cost of ingredients here.

As Italy has stricter regulations on food preparation and storage, most of the food here also tastes less artificially sweet than foods at home. Aspartame, for instance, is a staple in sweets and sodas in the States, but isn’t really found here. In terms of a healthy diet, this is a good thing, but to an American palette, it’s definitely different. Coca Cola, for instance, tastes completely different in Italy than it does in the US. Vegetables and fruit mostly aren’t refrigerated or sprayed with the same pesticides, which makes for a drastic difference in taste.

One last notable difference is breakfast. Americans are known for having excessive, over-the-top breakfasts, and I certainly miss this when I’m in Rome. Most Romans eat a cornetto and have an espresso and that’s it. I don’t drink coffee (shocking, I know) and a cornetto typically doesn’t satisfy me in the mornings. I don’t eat huge breakfasts every day when I’m at home in Connecticut, but I do eat a bowl of cereal, oatmeal, eggs, or fruit. However, I certainly have the option to indulge in a bigger breakfast should I want to. Here, the option for a big breakfast doesn’t really exist, and pancakes or waffles are rare finds.

Katherine 6

Enjoy proper Italian pasta and pizza the way it should be done: by an Italian, in Italy. (Photographer: Katherine Scibilia)

While these are all minor changes, they have affected the way that I eat, which I would say has generally improved. I’ve also had some of the best food in my life here, including Italian, Indian, Japanese and Chinese fare, because there’s a wide range of food options in Rome. The pasta and the pizza really are as good as they say, though the pizza is much thinner than the adaptations we have in the US.

And, best of all, even a bad dessert here is still better than a good dessert almost anywhere else in the world.

Living in Italy has been an amazing opportunity, one that I’m glad I’ll get to continue for the next two years. While there is so much more to say about my experience, I could never fit it all in one article and hope to have several more segments in the next few months. Despite any cultural differences, it’s always reassuring to know that, wherever you go, you will inevitably find kind, wonderful people.

Featured image © Wenje, Zhang 


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The Native American Regalia Bill and Native American National Erasure http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/01/the-native-american-regalia-bill-and-native-american-national-erasure/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/07/01/the-native-american-regalia-bill-and-native-american-national-erasure/#respond Sat, 01 Jul 2017 14:55:37 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7371 On April 21st a bill was passed in Montana which allows Native American students to wear traditional regalia at their graduations. Signed by Governor Steve Bullock, the Native American regalia bill means that schools and government agencies are not able to interfere if students choose to wear items of cultural significance with their robes and mortar boards upon graduation.

Native American graduation rates have historically been notoriously low — the school drop-out rate for Native American students is a massive 70% — and the minority group is still one of the most marginalised in American society. Indeed, 97% of the Native American population reportedly live below the poverty line, the community suffer from a fluctuating unemployment rate of up to 85%, and indigenous groups are still campaigning to receive equal voter rights in the US, after reporting that officials have institutionalised practices which prevent some tribes from voting in American elections — for instance, refusing to translate ballots into native languages. Therefore, a bill which allows for the celebration of Native American heritage and achievements is a huge leap forward for the communities which have been suffering under increased Westernisation since colonisation.

Native Americans have suffered from a history of attempted erasure from ‘civilised’ Western culture. Upon British colonisation of the United States, efforts were made to physically remove indigenous tribes from the land, followed by more psychological erasure attempts. Richard Henry Pratt was known for his creation of the idea of Native American boarding schools — founding the most famous, the Carlisle Indian School. These institutions removed children from their tribes and took them to Western schools to learn how to ‘fit in’ with American society. Boys and girls were separated, had their regalia removed, and were placed in ‘appropriate’, gender-specific clothing — boys had their hair cut short, and girls were placed in classes teaching them cleaning, needlework and motherhood, enforcing traditional Western gender ideals upon a group which customarily placed little import on gender; in typical Native American communities women were given equal respect and duties, and it wasn’t until after these boarding schools had been in use that gender imbalances — and larger issues, such as rape — became commonplace among tribes.

Disney’s Pocahontas romanticises the struggles of Native American women, and ‘sexy Indian’ Halloween costumes sexualise and fetishize them, taking away their cultural worth and significance in the history of the American land and placing them in a position wherein their worth in their country depends on their bodies and their aesthetic, commercial value.

Despite the enormous injustices faced by the Native American community, there has been little by way of de facto progress even today. There was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada which addressed the atrocities that indigenous people suffered after colonisation — essentially a nationwide public apology which directly announces, addresses and apologises for all injustices and is seen by many as a form of closure, allowing for the country to move forward and to finally allow a chance for social equality. However, in the US there has been no such commission. The closest America has come was the Maine Wabankaki-State Truth and Reconciliation Commission; whilst this does address issues faced by Native Americans, it is specific to the Wabankaki experiences with child welfare, and doesn’t address larger issues of violence (both physical and psychological), discrimination and marginalisation, or erasure. This commission concluded that there was still an institutionalised racism towards Native Americans, and acknowledged a ‘cultural genocide’, but still there has been no real action to address this glaring social issue.

Therefore, the recently-passed bill in Montana is seen by many as the first step towards at last achieving equity and harmony for the Native American tribes and peoples across the United States. Despite the huge physical assaults, it is the psychological damage which has been most scarring for the community, having lived with the fear of losing their heritage entirely and being forced into Westernised, Americanised ways of living. Thus, making it possible for graduating Native American students to celebrate their culture publically is a huge leap into de-marginalisation and prosperity — something which is so significant in an America which still suffers from such fluctuating synchronisation with minority groups.

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A Weekend Away in Byron Bay http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/06/29/a-weekend-away-in-byron-bay/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/06/29/a-weekend-away-in-byron-bay/#respond Thu, 29 Jun 2017 12:54:35 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7504 Bryon Bay is one of Australia’s best known beach side towns, and acclaimed for being a surfing hotspot. It is located in northern New South Wales (NSW) on Australia’s east coast, around a 3-hour drive from Brisbane airport. Though Bryon Bay is a haven for surfers, it also hosts excellent scuba diving sites and is home to a conservation park headland complete with the famous white lighthouse. During certain times of the year, humpback whale migrations can also be watched from viewpoints such as the Captain Cook Lookout, or aboard tour boats.

We spent a long weekend soaking up the sights and sounds of Bryon as well as exploring the surrounding hinterland and smaller, quirkier places hidden among the hills. Bryon is a beautiful town and has become even more popular thanks to the frequent cycle of backpackers and weekend visitors. However, this has caused huge traffic problems in the Central Business District. As Bryon Bay is a place famous for its natural beauty and its ability to keep mining and excessive development away, many people felt that such heavy traffic was contributing to its loss of identity, and a lot of effort has since been put into keeping the town pristine and still attracting its visitors.

Byron Bay (author’s own)

Bryon is also known for some award-winning dining experiences, and checking out the abundance of cafes and restaurants is a local pastime. During our stay, we spent more time surfing than eating, but we had some great burgers at the Beachside Hotel. A quieter, yet just-as-delicious, pub called The Railway provides an ‘on track’ dining and beverage experience and boasts a huge al fresco area a few streets back from the crowded beachfront walkway. Alternatively, the website Gourmet Traveller has some great suggestions for eating outside of Bryon, where fresh, organic produce is the norm.

Inland from Bryon there are some exciting tourist attractions including Crystal Cave and the famous weed-happy town of Nimbin. Nimbin is a fascinating place with some really good hippy stores and heaps of handmade items to take away. Further afield but reachable on a weekend trip is Lismore, one of northern NSW’s main towns which was recently hit hard by rapidly rising flood waters in March of this year. The high waters devastated the town and surrounding areas and although it is on its way to recovery, there are still a lot of people and businesses displaced. Some incredible photos can be found here.

For anybody looking to explore NSW, its Northern Peninsula and most easterly point at Bryon Bay are both a must see, whilst for the keen surfer or road trip enthusiast, it is one of the best stops along the coast of Australia.

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Rediscovering My Home Country And Its People http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/06/28/rediscovering-my-home-country-and-its-people/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/06/28/rediscovering-my-home-country-and-its-people/#respond Wed, 28 Jun 2017 09:40:46 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7526 I left Pakistan four years ago to pursue my bachelor’s degree in English from the UK. One thing led to another and now I am pursuing my master’s here too and, thus, haven’t lived in my home country for four years. The decision that I made in the beginning still stands, however living in the UK and only visiting Pakistan in the holidays has led me to discover new things about the UK, Pakistan and myself.

My first trip back home was filled with joy and excitement. After all, I had been in the UK for one year and I was desperately homesick. I missed my family, friends, Pakistani food, the hustle and bustle of a big city and even the traffic on the roads. So, naturally, when I exited the Karachi airport and felt the hot, dusty air on my face, I was ecstatic. The smells, the air, the noise; every little thing greeted me warmly and I held it close to my heart. Seeing my family and friends waiting for me immediately made me realise that I had a support system in Pakistan that I could not have in the UK. It was safe to say that I had a fun-filled summer that year which was taken up by the Pakistani experience that I had spent a year without.

Karachi, Pakistan (©The MJ Productions, Flickr)

My second summer was different. Although the warm air was comforting, it took only a car ride to irritate me. As my father drove home, cars drove left, right and centre turning into lanes randomly while their horns honked deafeningly. Motorcycles and rickshaws drove right through red lights, leaving my father and I both muttering under our breaths. It was strange to see how two years in another country made me notice the haphazard roads that I had been used to my entire life. Another related thing which bothered me was the lack of patience people had; no one queued properly like they did in Britain and they continued to bump into you if they were in a hurry, without any apology.

Being away from my home country made me understand it more, in terms of its flaws as well as its strengths. The flaws were more within certain people, but strengths existed in other people that I knew. I always knew Pakistan was a diverse country with varied cultures, sects and beliefs, but the existence of contradictions only hit me completely when I saw it from an outsider’s perspective. Some were judgemental — immersed in poking their noses in other people’s lives and pressuring them for everything. Others were warm-hearted and understanding — always ready to help others whether poor, rich, old or young. One thing that I realised I disliked a lot was that aspects such as class, sects, education levels and personal views were highlighted too much. What made it worse was that when these things were discussed, the other view was not always understood. However, this can be said about people all over the world, so I don’t think it is much to worry about; it will change over time.

One part of Pakistan on which my view will never change is our cuisine. The country is famous for its local dishes. In my opinion, my city Karachi hosts some of the most delicious food that I have ever eaten. Spicy biryani — a dish made with rice, meat or vegetables, spices and yogurt — is, by far, my favourite dish. Its succulent, spicy taste and fresh aroma is enough to excite any taste buds. Other famous dishes include nihari (a spicy stew of slow-cooked meat), different types of kebabs, halwa puri (puri bread with chickpeas masala, potato curry and halwa) and various kinds of chaat (mixtures of chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet tamarind chutney, chilli powder, cumin powder, yogurt and crisp fried dough wafers). Chicken karahi is another favourite of mine; it is a chicken curry made with spices, green chillies, tomatoes, coriander leaves, and garlic and ginger paste, especially known for its spicy taste. After these flavoursome dishes, a good cup of chai is all one needs to relax and unwind. I could go on and on about the Pakistani food that can’t be replicated, but it is no doubt that it is one of the things that I love most about my country.

Although being abroad made me realise some negative things about Pakistanis, it has also made me cherish the positives about them. Pakistanis are compassionate, warm-hearted, fun-loving people who hold family and community to the highest importance. There have been many times when strangers have helped me when I faced some trouble on the road, and at times of peril you hear accounts of Pakistanis lining up outside hospitals or the areas affected to help in any way they can. Every other month you hear about people working to change things. Well-known social activists include Abdul Sattar Edhi, Malala Yousafzai and Sabeen Mahmud — and there are thousands of others who work every day to make the country a better place. Foreign visitors are welcomed with great enthusiasm and Pakistanis go out of their way to show them the country. Families and communities unite on religious and social festivals such as Eid, Ramadan and Independence Day, or even just once a month to share stories, food and celebrations. Charity is given wholeheartedly, and especially in Ramadan, you only need to step outside close to Iftar time to see lines of the poor being fed. This energy exists in everyday life, as many cities are busy 24 hours a day, and weekends are filled with small adventures. Pakistanis love driving to different cities, beach trips, mountain climbing, eating with friends and family — basically having the most fun you can have by enjoying even the smallest of moments.

© Sean Ellis, Flickr

The weather is another thing that I took for granted. In comparison, the UK is almost always cold and rainy which makes it a tad depressing sometimes. Although there is an abundance of great scenery, you always have to look up the weather forecast and plan your trips around it, which gets annoying. On the other hand, the year-round heat back home can occasionally get too much for you, but personally I’d rather it be hot than cold. You can still spend days doing activities that help you cool off and there is almost never a time when you’re hindered by the weather.

Now that my master’s degree is coming to an end, I have mixed feelings about returning home. Social pressures and experiences with negative people make me wish that I could stay here longer, but on the other hand I am excited to go back home. Being in the UK independently has helped me grow in many ways and I will always think of the UK as a second home. However, I absolutely adore my home country and its people, and now I know that no matter where life takes me, I will always be a proud Pakistani through and through.

Featured photo ©  Sean Ellis

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Pocket Guide to the Gower Peninsula http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/06/27/pocket-guide-to-the-gower-peninsula/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/06/27/pocket-guide-to-the-gower-peninsula/#respond Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:30:10 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7360 The Gower Peninsula is a rural, rugged landscape, shaped around the south coast of Wales. Unsurprisingly

it became the first designated area in Britain to achieve AONB status (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). This stretch of coastline is a rich haven for ramblers, heavily populated by a variety of native wildlife and has historic ruins scattered across its landscape.

The Gower Peninsula or ‘the Gower’ is a popular spot for walking enthusiasts and tourists alike, with many routes available to take on both easy and moderate ground. This popular destination could be described as the coastal equivalent to the Lake District. Depending on your level of experience, some mountainous areas can prove quite challenging, so do research your chosen path before leaving. However, equally, there are a number of gentle strolls you can take through small country villages if that is more your scene.

Richard Whitaker

Oxwich Bay: a peaceful spot to forget your worries and enjoy some quiet. (Photographer: Richard Whitaker; Flickr)

Cefn Bryn & Oxwich Bay

Cefn Bryn is as good a place as any to start your exploration of this part of the country, but then I may be a little biased, as it is where my own Gower-discovery began. Guiding you along the Redstone ridge, often referred to as ‘the backbone of Gower’, this path will lead you over exposed moorland, before descending back down to the country roads of level gravel terrain. At 186 metres high, Cefn Bryn is the second highest point in the Gower and often grazed upon by sheep, wild ponies and cattle. Look out for the neighbouring village of Reynoldston, which offers an unmarked route to a Neolithic monument and burial site that coincides with King Arthur’s legend.

Llanmadoc Hill

Llanmadoc Hill offers views across the peninsula and looks directly down over the village of Llanmadoc below. An Iron Age hillfort once stood upon the summit but now all that remains is a peculiar earthwork named ‘The Bulwark’, but it is easily identified. The site would originally have been used to hold livestock, but was later adapted to protect whole communities during times of war. The summit can be reached from several directions and offers a relatively flat plateau, which makes it an ideal spot for a picnic break along your walk.

Llangennith Burrows

The remote village of Llangennith was once the liveliest village on the peninsula, with local interests in cock-fighting, music and weaving, however nowadays it is usually populated by surfers. Smuggling was also rife here on Rhossili Bay and caused feuding amongst the independent townsfolk. Close to the church you can also view the site of the medieval village of Coety Green. There are six remaining houses left, now overgrown and sitting in ruin around the green.

Heather Cowper

Visit Port Eynon and imagine pirates, smuggling and general misbehaviour happening on its shores. (Photographer: Heather Cowper; Flickr)

Port Eynon

Port Eynon is another of the more populated beaches on the Gower and a personal favourite for long weekend strolls. Located on the edge of a quiet coastal community, it is easily accessible and has an interesting history. Today there is a relaxed atmosphere off-peak, though it was once a busy fishing village, known for its successful oyster dredging. Like Llangennith, it was also popular with smugglers, with legend telling that the Old Salt House (on the rocks) was used for such dubious exercises. This theory is contested, but what is known of the Old Salt House, is that it was used for panning the sea water in the early Elizabethan era. There are signs posted around the main attraction, so it is worth having a read whilst you’re visiting in order to gain a greater perspective of the bay and how it used to be in days gone by.

Rhossili, Mewslade Bay & Burry Holms

Rhossili offers a circular route that overlooks Mewslade Bay and is considered one of the top 10 coastal paths in the UK, taking you through an array of fields and farmland and crossing through several villages that settle amongst the surrounding hills. The ‘Worm’s Head’ is one of the highlights of this route, consisting of three outstretched headlands, which are completely cut-off at high tide — as such, it is advised to notify the coastguard before setting off along this stretch.

Burry Holms can be found to the western side of Rhossili Bay and becomes an island at high tide like the ‘Worm’s Head’. There are medieval monastic sites here, where special religious ceremonies are held every year.

Richard Allaway

Worm’s Head, a seriously photogenic part of the peninsula. (Photographer: Richard Allaway; Flickr)

Swansea Bay & Mumbles

If you’re not as eager to don your boots and head off to the hills, then wander along the promenade at nearby Swansea Bay as a relaxing alternative. As far as interesting facts go, the bay was home to the world’s first passenger railway, which sadly declined and has all but diminished today. A walk along any stretch of the promenade offers views across the bay and towards the lighthouse at Mumbles Head.

Mumbles is a popular seaside town and, although, it is a far cry from the cheap frills of bucket and spades, the town offers fine dining and local cuisine in abundance. You can still get the taste for the seaside however, at Verdi’s Ice-Cream Parlour. Don’t fret about amusement either, as you can still play away in the penny arcade found on the pier (to the left of Verdi’s) or enjoy a round of mini-golf further along the promenade.

Three Cliffs Bay

Three Cliffs Bay is undoubtedly one of the most photographed areas of the Gower Peninsula, although the climb for the views is steep and the bay itself is difficult to access. The beach can be accessed by one of two routes, one leading from the designated car park and another which leads via signposts through woodland. The three cliffs which jut out into the beach prove an attraction to climbers and give the bay its name. The sandy stretch is also popular with horse-riders, however, whilst the bay is certainly a beauty spot, it is strongly advised that under no circumstance should you bathe by the three cliffs, as there are extremely dangerous rip tides and currents which enter the Bristol Channel from here.

Clint Budd

Three Cliffs Bay, somewhere to enjoy from the safety of dry land. (Photographer: Clint Budd; Flickr)

Don’t worry about your fitness levels, as the Gower Peninsula holds plenty of paths for both the perennial and experimental walker. Come rain or shine, the enduring beauty of the South Wales coastline will lure you in. Characterised by beaches and rural pastures, it is an ideal place to get lost and explore, and the pleasant heartland of Gower will keep you coming back for more.

Featured image ©  Mike Mantin

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