Friday, 31 December 2010

Thicker Than Water?

Life on Goats Pride Dairy in British Columbia, my current location, hasn't just been all work work work. My top priority when looking for a farm to volunteer on was to make sure I was around a lot of people. I couldn't think of anything worse than being the only volunteer on a farm with no other travellers about and only one or two other people to talk to. That would certainly be a learning curve, but it was not something I was wanting to do this time around. Well, it is safe to say that with this farm, my hopes were exceeded by far.

I knew the Dykstra family (the Goats Pride inhabitants) had children, as it explained in their profile on WWOOF Canada, the organisation I have been using. But I did not quite expect nine children! They range from the age of thirty-two, all the way down to a full-of-life six year old. When they allow up to seven WWOOF'ers at any one time, you can imagine that Christmas this year was quite the big one, with a completely full house!

Five of the kids are still living at home, and three of these are home-schooled. The concept of teaching your children yourself for longer that the first five or so years of their life is pretty alien to me, as it is an irregular occurance in England. However, the Dykstra kids are not penned in forever; they have the option to go to school whenever they feel like it.

I always thought home-schooling would be a serious hindrance on a child's social capabilities, but these guys don't seem to have turned out too bad! They're so involved with extra-curricular activities that I don't think it would be possibly to keep themselves to themselves. Additionally, with the regular occurance of travellers passing through the house, they have plenty of access to the social world, and from all over the social world no less.

I think there was only one day during this holiday season that was just for family, no volunteers allowed. Which, considering how many little events and evenings there have been, is pretty darn generous if you ask me. Truth be told, going from all these big cities and then onto a farm with not a huge amount of access to town, it can get a little monotonous. My heart aches for the big bad world I love so much with touring cities; not knowing where I am half the time means I'm in my element.

So, everytime Jo-Ann mentions that a few of them are heading out for the evening, I always ask her if it would be possible that I could come along. Being part of a family's everyday life was something I wanted to achieve from my visit to a farm; to see how they live from day-to-day.

I've been to Johann's Christmas music recital, with some amazing middle-schoolers in an orchestra sounding a little something like this...but Johann's particular performance was thoroughly enjoyable.

Charity had an evening recital with her violin tutor and fellow students at an old people's home. Highlights include a little seven year-old girl playing the violin, far too adorable, and an old lady pulling some of the most amazing shapes in her wheelchair. Whatever medication she was on, when I'm old, I want them.

My favourite night of them all would be an evening of some spine-tingling Christmas tunes sung by the Abbotsford Men's Choir. Jo-Ann's father was part of said chorus, and being a complete and utter hero, had a bag of chemotherapy on the go at the same time.He literally refused to miss out on an evening he had been looking forward to so much.

As for Christmas Day itself, there was twenty of us. After feeding the goats at 6am, I come back into the house to find the wee boys jumping about and rampantly ripping open their stockings. To my utter delight as well, I find there is a stocking for everyone. And in mine, along with chocolate, slippers and other treats, the greatest gift of all; a jar of Marmite. Santa Claus knows me by heart.

It is ths kinds of moments that made me feel so accepted into such an already huge family, and made me realise how lucky it was that out of the hundreds of farms I could have chosen, Goats Pride was a pretty good deal. Baby Jennica, a recent addition to the family as Jo-Ann and Peter's granddaughter, had her first Christmas this year. And I was there. How flippin' cool is that?!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Top Five Ways to Kill Time Whilst Travelling 3) A Bloody Good Book

Holidays are the perfect times to pick up books and read, in fact a lot of people only read whilst thery are on holiday (don't get me started...). I usually try to pick out anything that doesn't seem too complex and that I can read without much effort. Only one of the following falls under that category however, as I wouldn't want to bore you any further. The others are more books that inspire one to travel, which raise ones spirits in tough times whilst on the road, or just make one happy to be alive.

Chris McCandless and his Magic Bus
Into The Wild - John Krakauer: A strong start in the race, this tells the true story or Chris McCandless; the ultimate travelling renegade. Most of you might be more familiar with the film that was made from this book, but I always recommend diving into both. McCandless had a dream to disappear into the wilderness of Alaska and live off the land, burning his social security number and giving all his money to charity in the process. A fascinating look into the mind of a a man who would just refused to fit in and stay put.

Gullivers Travels - Jonathan Swift: Kicking it old school with some classic adventure, Gullivers Travels takes you through a number of fantasy lands of giants, minature people, and magical horses. As well as being labelled as a children's story of ships and pirates, Gullivers Travels makes drastic comments on society and human morality. An encouragement for anyone to realise that the world they know is not all that is out there...

Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert: I was given this book by a friend of mine who didn't like it all that much but it was an example of travel writing so I put it down to research to read it myself. Not a book I usually would have read as it seemed like chick-lit to me, I have to admit I hoovered the lot in about three days. Another true story, detailing the aftermath of the author's divorce, which resulted in her travels to Italy to eat, India to pray, and Indonesia to love.

Jane Austen: Okay, so not a book related to travels whatsoever. In fact, Austen's novels have heavy emphasis on home and the domestic sphere. The furthest they go tends to be in a carriage and a few miles down the road, which always takes them an overnight trip. Being a stereotypical female English student, I adore Jane Austen as much as the next woman. Incredibly easy to read, charming, cheeky and something to indulge in to take me back to the English countryside, whenever and wherever.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: This author has written some of the most beautifully passionate literature I have ever read, and a couple of his books are amongst my all time favourites. Marquez often portrays fairly complex family trees with cousins and relatives cropping up all over the place. You can feel the heat and intensity of Central and South America oozing off the pages, you almost have to take layers of whilst reading it. Another exotic read that will have you itching to discover and have you salivating at the enticing recipes is Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.

Friday, 24 December 2010

So this is Christmas...

Merry Christmas to all my readers out there! For some of you, it is Christmas morning already, and I have a very excited six year old buzzing around me here on the farm who is jealous of you and eagerly awaiting Santa.

On my travels here I have spent time with people from various parts of the globe, and encountered Christmas traditions I have never heard of. So I thought I'd do a special Noel post sharing with you some of the bizarre (guess they're just bizarre to me) traditions I've experienced.

Santa Lucia with her eyes
on a plate...
 In the first few weeks of my stay I couchsurfed with a gent named Michel from Italy, who told me the story af Santa Lucia, the patron saint for the blind. You can find her face in opticians across the land of Europe, mainly Scandinavia, so this tradition stretches a little further than Italy. Pictures of her show her carrying her own eyes on a plate or in her hands. Pretty harrowing eh?!
But what does this have to do with the festive season I hear you cry?! Santa Lucia's day is celebrated on December 13th, with her bringing gifts to children on the night of December 12th. But she is not alone in her tasks! She arrive in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo, and you you leave coffee, flour and bread. (Not as lucky as Santa and his mince pies! Lucy is just given coffee to keep her going with all her deliveries!)
Like several other traditions, Lucia brings gifts to good children and coal to bad ones. Unlike several other traditions, children must not watch Santa Lucia delivering gifts or she will throw ashes in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. What a way to shut the kids up and send them to bed.
Saint Nikolaus

In Germany, good old Saint Nic is much more a part of their Christmas celebration, as I was told by my friend Katja, who I also stayed with in Vancouver. On the night of December 5th, children put a boot or shoe (called a Nikolaus boot or Nikolaus-Stiefel. Of course, what else!) outside their front door, in which Saint Nikolaus pours presents into. If you've been a bad child, you receive a tree branch, not quite a punishment as the coal others are used to.

Saint Nikolaus is rumoured in some stories to have an accomplice, Knecht Ruprecht, who would threaten to beat children if they misbehaved. Some of these European traditions are a bit brutal for my liking! Although I suspect a few of the more unsavoury parts of these stories may have dissolved into nothing in recent years. You can't so flippantly threaten to beat children nowadays!

As for Canada, my current location, there's not so much to report. Those of you reading from my motherland or America aren't missing out on any fascinating Christmas occurances from the Great White North. However, I am pleased to say I attended one of the most fantastic traditions here in Abbotsford, and that was the Drive-Thru Nativity. Oh yeah, I thought drive-thru Starbucks was a bit extreme, but now people apparently don't even bother to get out of their cars for special festive productions anymore! Only in North America eh?!

A scene from the
Drive-Thru Nativity
 Having said that, it was incredibly enjoyable. Live actors portraying the Christmas story for you whilst you relax in the warm comfort of your own vehicle.
So, for all of you out there feeling a tiny pang of homesickness from being away from home, just remember that you're out here having the time of your life! A Christmas not to be forgotten that's for sure. Festive greetings to my fellow backpackers and all those reading this from home. Have a sweet one!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Confession: Friend or Foe?

So, those of you who have been keeping up with me know that I am quite the fan of StumbleUpon, an incredible online resource for wasting time. I recently wrote a Top Five post highlighting some quirky little websites I have found whilst using it, but oh there is more!

A perfect example of why I love PostSecret.
I too hope they are still this happy.
Whilst going blind staring at my laptop for too long, I 'stumbled' upon PostSecrets, which describes itself as an 'ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard' Sounds good, eh? I myself adore it, having always been an admirer of any kind of project that includes the charm and mystery of a strangers input. Postcards range from cute little messages written on lost and found pictures, to cheeky pieces of revenge that the victim will never be aware of.

But it got me thinking, there are other online confession sights right? Yeah, type it into Google, you'll have a ball. To be quite honest with you, I think they are the most bizarre creations. Some have religious tones, others are just a means for people to get something off their chest. is one of those I can just about cope with; little messages of hopeless romantics expressing their feelings of long lost love. 'I held your hand 4 years ago and I think it will be the last time. This makes me sad.' The only thing I feel for these people is a smidgen of pity, because they have no one else to tell other than faceless cyberspace. (I however do not feel sorry for whoever wrote 'The black people on Twitter are really grossing up the place.' Something best kept to yourself maybe?!)

I could be being a touch cynical here; many of these websites declare how liberating it is for people to just let out a secret they have been holding to for too long. Whether it be to a person or letters on a screen, it still feels like you're confiding in someone and you are not alone. Harbouring a secret you feel like you cannot possibly tell anyone in the world for fear of judgement or ridicule can be incredibly hard.

But the internet...really?!

What pains me even more is the idea that people use confession websites to confess to their God. Why create a middle man? (Don't even get me started on confessing to a priest...) Sites like list hundreds of confessions from people wishing to tell the Lord their sins. Granted, writing things down is therapeutic (first hand experience), but when it comes to asking for forgiveness from the Lord, speaking to Him like you truly believe He's a real being is probably the best way to go about it. Could writing it on a website not be deemed trying to avoid going through with the real deal and attempting the find someone human to bypass it onto? Perhaps even to get some kind of approval from a more tangible resource?

Maybe it's the church's way of trying to keep up with new technology: confession for the masses whenever and wherever possible. I strayed from the church a few years ago, things seemed to have evolved since then. Hey, call me traditional, but I always thought confessing the the quiet of your own heart was the best way to find peace as a Christian. I don't think it's possible on the devilishly cruel world wide web.

Let's not forget the real reason why confession websites are a good topic of conversation; they are incredibly entertaining. A new-age version of those teen problem pages or people seeking people ads in the papers. In some ways, you wonder if people write such fantasticly juicy gossip about themselves on the internet because they know a strnager will read it, therefore no repercussions. A way for people to put themselves out there, guilt-free. Is this how people get their kicks these days?

I couldn't resist adding this PostSecret.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Pride of Sustainable Living

Most of you who I have been in contact with recently will know I am currently staying in Abbotsford, a town located about an hours drive east of Vancouver, on a farm named Goat's Pride Dairy. Those of you who don't know this, I'm telling the truth, honest.

Before I left England to head to Canada I decided to join an orgnaisation known as WWOOF, also known as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This allows travelers to volunteer on farms with food and accomodation provided but no pay is given. I didn't exactly have as much money as I'd hoped before I came out here, so this scheme sounded like a good way for me to try something new and save a penny or two in the process.

So here I am, working on a farm which attempts to be as ecologically friendly as possible, and to try it's hand at sustainable living. The fountain of knowledge that is Wiki leads me to believe the definition of sustainable living is 'a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resource and his/her own resource...(this incluces) altering methods of transportation, energy, consumption and diet.'

And as far as I can see, Goat's Pride goes to endless lengths to try and meet this definition. The Dykstra's, the family here, have a staggering nine children, five of which are still at home. Along with up to seven WWOOFers at a time (yes, that's what we call ourselves) this can make it all very difficult when you imagine how much waste this amount of people can produce.

However, I'm impressed by how little one can waste when you really put your mind to it. Very little rubbish actually goes in the bin here that we use for anything that cannot eventually be reused. There is half a room dedicated to various containers for different substances to be recycled. Two bins in the kitchen under the sink are for compost, into which all food leftovers go if they are inedible. Waste from the goats sits in a huge pile waiting to bagged up and sold as fertiliser gold to various other landowners. Another room is dedicated to anything made in jars, from jam to apple sauce to various fruits. The juice leftover from any of these goes into a big container used to drink at breakfast. And man alive is it delicious.

The pride of Goat's Pride, the little babes!
Even things such as clothes never go to waste. Having had over two hundred WWOOFers in around five years, Jo-Ann (motherhen) has accumulated a whole cupboard full of clothing abandoned by other people. These are used by all of us in the barn as muck-about clothing, and one can even find treasures in there to take home with us and adore.

Other people's waste comes in handy too. We get a truck load of bread each week from the organic bakery as they can no longer sell it due to it being past its sell by date. This family never has to buy bread because a huge amount of this is perfectly edible, and the rest goes to the goats. Similarly, several boxes of vegetables comes from an organic grocery store each week to feed us and our bleeting little pals.
As well as sorting out the waste, this family creates too. Obviously with the goats, we have a natural resource to be able to provide ourselves with milk, cheese, and yoghurt. And I am proud to say I have witnessed the process through which this come from udder to our very own kitchen table. We are also provided with eggs from a little crowd of chickens, Some of the eggs are sold as a fair amount is produced, but there are plenty for ourselves too.

Milk bottle I lovingly labelled,
ready to be filled and sold.
Everything here seems like one big circle of events, from creation to consumption, and eventually its reuse somewhere along the line. I have to say, I admire this little community for the dynamic they have created in order to try and make sure everything has a purpose. Once it completes its first mission, there is no doubt something else it can be used for.

I think this is something we can all forget from time to time, and as much as government schemes are out there to try and generate more recycling, it boils down to our laziness as to why we can't all be this way. Everyone does it, I certainly do. It's just easier to chuck everything in one bin and forget about it, rather than make a conscious effort to try and maintain the amount of waste you produce and to make it into something new.

I've learnt a lot from my stay here at Goat's Pride already, and intend to take home with me much more in the coming weeks. More info can be found on their website, on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Top Five Ways To Kill Time Whilst Traveling: 2) StumbleUpon

Any of you reading this who have met me in the past few weeks will no doubt have been shown some random and quirky article I've found somewhere in the depths of cyberspace. 'Where on earth did she find this?' I heard most of you cry. Well, all from the power of StumbleUpon, the ultimate way to waste time, traveling or not.

But, it has been my saviour in my times of boredom here, so I could hardly miss it out of these posts. Stumble is a way to discover and explore the internet like never before. To set up your own personal profile, you complete a checklist, describing your interests. You then hit the Stumble! button, and it generates pages it thinks you will enjoy based upon your chosen interests. You then have the option to like or dislike these pages before moving onto the next Stumble, therefore giving the computer a chance to skim down your interests even more and producing internet gold for your enjoyment.

Sound good? Yeah, it is. I think it should come with a warning however, it has made me feel like I'm going blind sometimes. You can easily Stumble for hours without realising and before you know it, you've 'liked' 136 pages, god knows how many you've disliked, and it's way past bedtime.

Add a little more joy to
your tea break.

So I thought I'd share with you now the top five things I myself have StumbledUpon. There are just the quirkiest little ones I've found, the bigger and better websites that are now bookmarked are for later posts...

1) Teabag Coasters: These ingenious little designs make making a cup of tea even more delightful. As well as being the packaging for the teabag, these then double up as a coaster. You place you used teabag on said coaster, and voila, a little picture forms as the embossed part of the paper soaks up the liquid quicker then the rest. I didn't think there could ever be a wya to make a cup of tea moe beautiful, but here it is.

Some little people putting
out a candle.
2) Little People Art: A hideously cute little project by artist Vincent Bousserez, consisting of tiny little plastic men and women set up in various situations. These include window washing a watch face, riding a sledge down some kitchen paper and tiny men in biohazard suits checking out some suspicious looking cheese. Kind of makes you want to believe these minature folks come out and night an genuinely sunbathe on your belongings.

3) 4th Amendment Underwear: With all these protests going on about full body scans at airports invading personal privacy, stick it to the man by wearing underwear imprinted with the 4th amendment in metallic ink, therefore making the writing show up on an x-ray scan. This states 'the right of the people to be secure in theirs persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.' Airport security won't know what's hit them, and can hardly fight back in case of having another amendment splurged at them. Available in t-shirts, boxers, socks, bras and knickers.

Natural Architecture: 'clemson
clay nest' by nils-udo, 2005

4) Natural Architecture: Otherwise known as an 'emerging art movement that is exploring mankind's desire to reconnect to the earth, through the built environment.' Getting in touch with our natural side with funky spiral trees forming beautiful chambers, 'organic highways' made entirely of whole logs of wood, and ultimate eco houses. I always enjoy an attempt for humanity to join in harmony with nature, and this project is just down my street.

5) The Invisible Man: A chinese artist named Liu Bolin who paints himself, stands in points of interest and then takes a photograph of it, camouflaged and (almost) invisible to the untrained eye. Creative and also like a little game of Where's Wally (yes guys, it's Wally, not Waldio.) he's not exactly immediate in one or two of his photos actually, pretty good job I'd say. No website that I can find so you'll have to put up with someone elses blog, it seems, for photos.
Liu Bolin in disguise

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Deery Me.

Speaking of local artists, (if you haven't read my last post, this won't follow on so well) whilst I was in Seattle it was a pure pleasure and fortunate experience of mine to meet a young man named Sean Dekkers. A friend of mine I was there with knew him from her motherland, New Zealand, and we all met up to say hello.

Original 3d renders made
from Sean's first drawings
(same goes for picture
on left)
Whilst evesdropping (no shame, I've made a post out of it) on a conversation they were having, I gathered that Sean was working on a project which involved him making life sized deer heads. At this point, I had to interrupt, admit I was listening, and get him to explain further.
As it turns out, Sean is a graphic designer/animator/artist/one of those supermadcreative types. He's worked on projects in several locations around the world linked with Microsoft, BBC World Cup and Deaf Awareness. At the time however, I had no idea of this, and wanted to hear more about the deer.

Over a series of emails, I grilled him for information. And of course one of my first questions was, why deer heads?! His response being, 'I like 'em. I grew up in the mountains and always wanted a deer head for my mantle but I'm not into killing animals so I looked for a nice alternative.' Good a reason as any I think, simple and to the point. And so, with his creative juices flowing, Sean decided to make one with his own fair hands, out of ceramics.

After getting some positive response to his idea from a few people he'd shown, Sean decided there was more to it than just making one to adorn his fire place, which is of course a very expensive option in itself. Sean explains how it started to evolve;

'I like the idea of using design as a tool to solve non-traditional problems, so I thought it would be fun to do a deer head fundraiser. I know a lot of designers that would do something similar if they could, so I thought I'd pass it on to them to get some of their artistic touches and then sell them as one offs for $500 a piece.'

Original master to make
the mould
It is Sean's goal to eventually create twenty of these deer heads, therefore potentially raising $10,000 for the lucky charity he has yet to pick. His heart is set on children who have been born into disadvantage, a worthy cause I'd say. The trick is to find one where the donation would go straight to the kids and not into someone's salary, that major downfall of the charity sector. So we can all be sure that whomever this does go to, it'll be the people who truly need it.

Having had him explain all the work that goes into these beautiful creations, I would say $500 is a bargain. Especially considering that no two will be the same, each with their own unique touches of the twenty artists they will be sent to. Also taking into account that around one thousand man hours will be put into the project.

The mould that will
create them all...
It's all a work in progress at the moment; I recevied a very happy email from Sean a few days ago saying the mould had just been made and it's turned out great. So it's full steam ahead from now on, and I sincerely wish each person involved the best of luck. If I had the money, I would buy one for sure because I'm in love with the whole idea. Shipping it home might be more expensive than the actual deer head though...

For more info on Sean and the work he's previously been involved with, check out his website here. More posts to follow on the deer, so watch this space...

Monday, 13 December 2010

Crafty Little Buggers

As we were munching on some deligious and hugely portioned breakfast on our first morning in America and whilst perusing the paper, we came across an advertisment for an event called Urban Craft Uprising, an indie craft show hosting local artists and handylikepeople. As it happens, this event was on that very day in Seattle. It must have been fate, because this kind of occasion is just my cup of tea.

A view of the exhibition hall
 Urban Craft Uprising's mission is 'To build a fun, successful showcase for indie crafters and to nurture a supportive DIY crafting community'. And they certainly did. I adore just about anything exhibiting something local and artistic. There's just such an honest air of trade about it all, which has an incredible ability to make me spend money.

This time around, it was utterly painful. If you're on a budget and an event like this swings your way, you'd probably best avoid it. Money and space/weight in your backpack has to be taken into account at all times. I've never found it more difficult to show so much self restraint, and I can proudly say the only thing I bought was a present for someone else. (Admittedly in the hope that he'll hate it and I'll just have to have it instead.)

Here are a couple of my favourite stalls I came across and where you could find those last little quirky Christmas presents...

Attic Journals: Started in 2004, this ubercool project binds 'hard-bound vintage school books and library books that were destined for dumpsters', and turns them into journals. They tear out the original paper and replace it with blank pages, whilst reusing the beautifully old school front covers to create something pretty special. My favourites include 80's style cookery books and classic kids stories (sadly no photos as their website won't let me! Go check it out yourselves though.) I could have bought them all then and there, if I didn't have several blank notebooks lined up already. They're all priced at around $15, so I might just have to treat myself one day.

Slide Sideways: A stall that we were drawn to over and over again, no matter how many times we moved away. Recently started by a guy and a gal with a lot of talent in graphic design. Products include t-shirts, notebooks, teatowels, posters and prints, adorable stationary and much much more. I am genuinely honoured to meet the two minds behind this gorgeous little project. Always open to a collaborating with new artists, they believe in hard work and being nice to people. Sounds good to me.

Slide Sideways graphics
Tender Loving Empire: I'll use their own description as it sums it up pretty well...'a media and arts collective / record label / comics imprint / consignment store / gallery / custom screenprinter / concert production house / general purveyor of things artistic based in beautiful Portland, OR.' Busy bunch of fellows then. Currently on tour in various hotspots down the west coast of America if anyone out there gets a chance to take a peek. CD's of unknown artists labelled with similar bands in order to give them their lucky break, and quirky designs on t-shirts were amoungst my favourites here.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Top Five Way To Kill Time Whilst Traveling: 1) A Jampacked iPod

Okay, okay, don't be too put off by the title. What scariligious traveler is this that kills time whilst on the road?! It it true to say that whilst you're visiting another country, you don't want to waste a second of it. Time should be savoured and not killed. However, there do come points where you're at a loose end. These usually include waiting for some kind of transportation, hovering around a communal area in a hostel to meet friends at an arranged time, or just a good old fashioned money-saving technique. Some of these are unavoidable.

So, I have created a little guide for those of you out there who are in the same position as me. Also, it's something for me to pull out when I'm lacking in inspiration! So if you see one of these five posts pop up, you know my traveling has come to a little stand still. That or I'm being lazy.

I was originally going to do just a straight forward Top Five in one post, but to make things more complex for myself, I'm putting subcategories in them all. Top fives within top fives. Yeah, I know, High Fidelity never thought o' that shit. (Actually, I think they did, but for the sake of argument...)

Everyone knows a good piece of music can always entertain, and this one certainly goes for those long bus or train rides. So to start us off, here are my top five albums to listen to whilst on the move. In no particular order as that would be too tricky.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Self titled: This one is a recent find as I 'stumbled' (see later post of 'stumbling'...oooh cryptic.) upon it a couple of weeks back. I literally cannot stop my thumb from scrolling down to play my most favourite song, 'Home'. Folky, country beats that make me imagine the flower patterned shirts of the sixties with the loving dialogue in the middle. Shades of the Polyphonic Spree. Check out the video to understand what I mean!

Beirut - I can't decide just one album. I'm sorry, I have failed you all and fallen at the second hurdle (I purposely didn't write this one first, but thought I should come clean fairly early on.) In one respect, I could not live without The Flying Club Cup, so I guess it should be that. In another respect, Gulag Orkestar has Postcard From Italy on AND Mount Wroclai (Idle Days). So just trust my judgement and listen to them all. Eastern European vibes meet one hell of a voice to create and exotic sound that will transport you to anywhere but home in a second.

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More: Sorry taste. Sorry underground music scene. Sorry Beirut, Mumford & Sons better and more abstract older brother. But I just cannot get enough of Little Lion Man, the song that can wake me up and make me hit the road no matter what.

Sigur Ros - Takk: There are slightly better albums, but this was my first encounter with Sigur Ros so will always have a special place in my heart. Creative, unpredictable and experimental tunes. One of those albums where each song has probably been on an advert at some point in its life. This one's for taking in those breathtaking views and to sit around being overwhelmed with life.

The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt: This was introduced to me by a friend of mine (yes Jenna, its you) in Marrakech, and I have not stopped listening to it since. Kinda sounds like a modern day Bob Dylan, or his voice certainly does. It's a little piece of home that's I can pick up whenever I want, as it reminds me of two of the people I love most in this world (yes George, you are the other one.) A must have when it comes to those solitary moments. Not to be confused with these guys.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Why I Fell In Love With Seattle

Some Red Tube sculpture
I have failed to find the name of...

So, as you can see, our destination for our first night in America was Seattle. To be honest, I have never been all that bothered about going to America, and I'm not quite sure why I had more of an urge to visit Canada. But seeing as Washington was so close, and that I had been invited down there with some couchsurfing friends, I thought why not? It's an experience nonetheless.

And I shall eat my words right now. Yumyumyum. We were only in Seattle for one day, and had to race around a little in some kind of mad dash to see the nice parts, but my goodness was I blown away. Seattle just seemed like my kind of city. Quirky and artistic with a touch of chic and grunge simultaneously. I'm by no means a fan of Starbucks, but a visit to their first ever cafe there also have some kind of charm about it.

Seattle Science
 Fiction Museum

The one thing I did notice about Seattle that made me love it even more was the amount of artwork, sculptures and interesting buildings that were about, a few examples of which lie around on this post. Additionally, we were incredibly lucky with the weather. Despite there being a bit of a biting wind at times, the sun was gloriously shining for us, improving everyone's mood immensely. On so many occasions did one of us turn to the group and say, 'Guys, can I just say how nice a day I'm having.'

As well as beautiful architecture that has become a tourist attraction in Seattle, there are some other little quirks which are easy to miss. We were lucky enough to meet up with a friend of one of our group who actually lives in Seattle, who showed us a local site, the Seattle Gum Wall. Possibly the most disgusting building I have ever been to when you consider how much saliva is just sitting there holding it all together, but it also has a nice story.

Seattle Gum Wall - The ticket office
Those walls surround a music venue called the Market Theatre, and those waiting in line or catching a smoke started to put gum up on the wall, sticking coins up with it or making little pictures. And it soon caught on. Officials scraped away the gum twice, but it just kept on happening. So it was therefore deemed a tourist attraction, and so the wall prevails. Viva la Revolution!

Lumps and bumps
Funky drainpipes
A couple of other things to point out are these weird nodules poking out of some gravel. These we stumbled upon just walking down a street below a busy road. I was impressed that this completely useless piece of land, otherwise just left to be an empty void, was turned into something vaguely interesting to look at. The same thing goes for these unorthadox drainpipes which twist and turn the water before depositing it to the ground. And why not? Gravity, you are useful, but oh so boring sometimes.

So good on you Seattle, you have made some beautiful architecture to feast our eyes upon, and have now forced me to change my plans in order to visit you once more. See you soon.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

My First Impressions of the U.S. of A

So, here it is. I've finally crossed the border onto American soil, my fourth country to visit this year, wooooyeah! (showoff.)

But it was not done so easily, as we had to cross the border in a car holding five different people, four different nationalities. Inevitably we were asked how we all knew each other. Figuring that 'couchsurfing' isn't something that most border police are familiar with, friends is that answer we had to give. it took a bit of persuasion but that's basically the only problem we encountered.

The guard who processed our visas was incredibly talkative and friendly, which either meant he was trying to get us to feel comfortable and slip up (not that I had anything to hide, other than the kilo of cocaine strapped to the bottom of our vehicle...I almost had you fooled then didn't I?!) or he just wasn't playing bad cop today.

So, country music from then on played on the radio, we cruised down to Seattle. In between yeeha's, we heard the most ridiculous radio broadcast any of us had ever come across. The presenter builds up this incredibly shocking piece of news like so, 'I have something to tell you all...(long pause)...but if you're standing up, sit down....(long pause)...If you're driving, I suggest you pull over and get ready for this...(I've never heard so much dead air, long pause)...If you have any pets, take them away from the radio as this might be quite unsettling...(what on earth is he going to say?! long pause) will be in an utter state of mental and physical shock from this breaking news...(shut up and tell us already!! long pause)...'

'The unemployment rate has fallen again this week, from 9.6% to 9.8%. and I'd like to say I don't really take sides when it comes to left or right wing politics, that's not our deal on this station. BUT, I have to say, the employment rate has only started to drop so badly in the 19 months President Obama has been in power. That is all...(more dead air)...'

Glenn 'that smarmy git' Beck
Needless to say, at this point we changed the station because this man is, quite clearly, a complete and utter idiot. And it was certainly not the only piece of slander we heard against poor old Obama that weekend. Those of you reading this from America I'm sure will be familiar with a certain gentleman named Glenn Beck. I've only heard snippets of this whirlwind of a human being from a friend in Seattle and what I've seen on the web. Basically, this is the guy who mocks Obama's 11-year old daughter, compares Obama to Hitler, and himself to Martin Luther King. Yeah, sure you are. Those of you who wish to find out more about what he thinks of himself, go here. If you want to hear somthing a bit more controversial, Google the son-of-a-gun.

Now, I'm not very politically minded, so I can't say a huge amount on the subject as I feel myself a little uninformed and ill-equipped. But the impression I got was that politically speaking, this country is messed up. But then again, so is ours and hundreds of others, so we can hardly hold that against America.

So my first impression were more or less what I predicted in terms of the huge political power America represents. They were certainly as brash as I had imagined, if not more. With all these strong characters floating about I find it hard to believe that everyone knows who's side to pick! I hope for the sake of this country, my own, and many more out there, that the political madness we find in this world doesn't take a sour turn and spiral out of control, if it hasn't done so already that is. There's not a lot more I like than a strong sense of identity, and I think we're all in danger of losing it if we don't keep a handle on what our country represents.

There is, quite clearly, no solution in what I've just said. The liklihood of characters such as Glenn Beck and Barack Obama ever seeing eye to eye is slim to none, and we all have different opinions. But the times will not a' change without a bit o' compromise, that is for sure.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Riding The Waves

I'll start by saying Happy Birthday to one of my oldest friends Mrs (!!) Katie-Jayne Thomas who is 23 today. Many happy returns from Canada.

So, most of you who I spoke to before I left will have a vague idea of what my two biggest plans were out here. The first being Couchsurfing. The second I shall reveal at a later date (although I have mentioned it several times before...)

So, what is Couchsurfing I hear you cry?! Possibly the best thing to ever happen to the modern traveller I should say. Couchsurfing is an online network that allows you to meet likeminded individuals on your travels or in your home town. What you do with said likeminded individuals is up to your living situation and availablity, which you display on the profile you create. This can range from just meeting someone for a coffee, or having them stay with you whilst they're passing through the area. Or on the other hand, it is you passing through the area and you have your own little personalised tour guide to show you the hidden gems of a city which you may never have found with a guidebook.

Sounds good right?! Well hell yeah it is. I guess for some people out there the idea of meeting up with complete strangers and staying in their houses seems fairly insane, and in a way it is. But if you choose carefully and don't put yourself in stupid situations, couchsurfing can be the saviour of your travels, as well as your bank account.

In the past few weeks I have had three experiences of Couchsurfing, all of which have been positive, and I'd like to publicly announce how greatful I am to all my hosts. I'm not so sure what I may have done with myself in that time if it had not been for you guys.

Just so those people unfamiliar with the whole shabang can get an idea of it all, here is a very fast whistlestop tour of the kinds of things Couchsurfing has brought into my life.

RISK! 2210 A.D.
First Stop: Michele and Katja. Eastside Vancouver. One Italian, one German. Ridiculously hard Italian card games, a silly amount of tea consumed (decaf included for those late nights), my first real nights sleep in Canada, my first taste of sushi (I will try it again despite the fact it was gross) quiz night at Our Town (see above post on Top Five Eats), my first burrito (better than sushi!), an epically long game of futuristic Risk, Mary Poppins on vinyl, returning a week later to head out on a trip to Seattle and Portland together, which brings us to today, hooray!

Second Stop: Graham Street House. Victoria. Three guys. Two students, one money bank person. Political chitchat about WikiLeaks and the British monarchy (most of which I couldn't keep up with, shameful), squishiest sofa known to man, badass TV show called Boardwalk, jugs of beer at Swans, getting complimented on my British accent by drunk people at Canoe Club, debating Adam's outfit for his night out (hilarious.), convincing a man to follow his dreams and go and build a cabin in the wilderness (next step, convince his girlfriend...), my first taste of perogies Steeve style (yummmm!), trying to teach them to speak in an English accent and just making Steeve sound like a South African sex offender. Not going to lie, probably a highlight.

Third Stop: Bryan. Victoria. One man, two geckos. A short but oh so sweet visit. Endless talks about travels whilst looking at a world map and being overwhelmed by how much ground there is to cover, writing lists of music for his travels, wine/gin/someswedishstuff/beer.cosmo's/moregin, Big Bad John's and peanut throwing 2010, first decent meal at The Mint (and a painful stomach for many hours afterwards), great new friendly faces of Victoria, falling asleep listening to Blind Pilot, hella portions of food at Flynn's, Fisherman's Wharf and Sammy the Seal, beautiful Victoria lookout point (it's a secret, sshhhh!) Bryan managed to squeeze a lot in considering I was ther for less than 24 hours!

So there we have it. I doubt I would have done any of those things had it not been for these incredibly generous individuals. They will always be remembered as helping me along the way on my first travels alone. And I am pleased to say there will be plenty more stories on Couchsurfing to come...

Top Five Eats so far...

So right now I'm sitting on a ferry on the way back to Vancouver from Victoria on Vancouver Island. In a few days time I'll be tucked away in Abbotsford working on Goat's Pride Dairy Farm and tasting good old home cooked food for a month. (Oh dear Lord I am looking forward to it.)

Over the past two weeks I have been searching out nooks and crannies, little coffee shops and food joints to fill my belly and allow me to drink pots of tea whilst working on my writing. Having been such an enjoyable part of my trip so far, here are my top five places to hang out. Places to get some nosh down me and put my thinking cap on, or relax with friends who help to conjure up my imagination.

1) Burgoo : Lonsdale Ave, North Vancouver.
    On the snowiest day Vancouver had seen for some years, and after my little drive up to Mount Seymour, my stomach was a' roarin' for some decent warming food. So when we walked past this place named Burgoo with a blackboard sign reading 'hungarian goulash!' just outside the door, my heart was set. Having been to Hungary and tasted the real deal, my standards were high for this perfect winter dish, and luckily I was not disappointed. Soups and sandwiches also grace their menu. Fairly pricey but utterly worth it coming in from teh cold.

2) Our Town: Braodway East, Vancouver.
    This place was introduced to me by a young lady named Katja who I was couchsurfing with for four days whilst in Vancouver. Granted, I haven't really eaten here properly, but if you're a fan of cinammon rolls, this is well and truly the place for you. We actually came here to join in with the quiz nights they hold two Thursdays a month. Albeit fairly complicated, it was an imaginative, alternative and original trivia night. If you're quirky, participated in or was a fan of Movember, and wear knitted jumpers with winter animals on them, this is probably the place for you to hang out and drink some coffee or $3.50 cans of beer. That's probably the best way to describe the clientele!

3) Local Public Eatery: Cornwall Avenue, Kitsilano Vancouver
    Opposite the beach on which we built a snow man, we enjoyed warmth, honey beer and the greatest and most gimormous burgers and yam fries I have ever tasted. Enough said.

4) Lady Marmalade: Johnson Street, Victoria
    A discovery I (ashamedly) made from a Lonely Planet guidebook, plagarist travel writer that I am! But damnnn are they right. I felt utterly at home with some bloody good warming soup and David Bowie on the stereo. Again, a little quirky place who's only source of fresh air being their open front door, so wear some layers or sit round the corner. Neither of which I did so I speak from experience. Nonetheless, it's a perfect lunch spot, that also has a liquor license, hooray! (I stuck to tea...)

5) Flynns (or at least that's what I think it was called, useful!) somewhere in Victoria.
    A vague description, but I was only there but a few hours ago. If you have a hangover, look this place up. Mine was satisfied with some seriously amazing BC Hash (vaguely translates to all the breakfast ingredients you could think of all smushed into one.) Huge protions but half sizes are available.

This post is dedicated to Dan, Kirsty, Matt, Bryan, Brad, Katja and Michele. All of which have contributed to my visits to each of these places and made some great memories with me. Cheers folks!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Canadian State of Mind

Someone asked me the other day 'What's your favourite thing about Canada so far then?', which was shortly followed by '...and don't say the people'. So I was pretty stumped! I've been all over Europe and seen some of the most exquisite buildings known to man. Been to India and experienced some stella hospitality. Been to Morroco and tasted some delicious culinary delights. And now I have been to Canada, and made to feel genuinely good about myself by complete strangers.

I'm not entirely sure why this particular Canadian decided that one's best experience in Canada simply cannot be their friendly nature. I would be pretty darn happy if that was the stereotype most people perceived of my nation. (I'm sitting here drinking Earl Grey tea may I add, I think that's a pretty good stereotype too, but all the others not so much.)

The first time I was struck by a stranger in such a way was my first trip to the market for some cheap food on my second day in Vancouver. I went up to pay at the till and was greeted by an incredibly chirpy young girl. And the end of the transaction she said to me, 'Okay there's your change, have a great week and enjoy the rest of you afternoon!'. It was Thursday. This girl had just wished me four days of happiness, doubly so for that afternoon. Needless to say I skipped out of that market with a spring in my step.

Most of you I imagine will be thinking she was just saying that to everyone, and I shouldn't feel so special. Truth is, she was saying it to everyone, but bloody good on her! She's in a mind numbingly boring job, probably on minimum wage and she still has the energy to bless everyone she greets with kinds words.

Aside from shop workers, I have found the second most friendly occupants of this country are the homeless. If we take into perspective their situation, and how friggin' cold it is here at night, I would be walking around damning everyone wearing a warmer coat than myself and a roof to go home to.

I'll admit, I can be cynical when it comes to the homeless, and I rarely give them money, not knowing what they might spend it on. It's very easy to just pretend like these people don't exist; walk on by with our heads turned the other way so that we don't feel bad about ignoring someone in need. We all do it, don't lie now! However, I've tried to get out of that as much as possible. No matter what they've done to be put in their situation, these are people with real feelings, thoughts and souls. They deserve at least an acknowledgement of their existence, even if it's telling them that you have nothing to give.

And each time I say anything to any one of the homeless here in Canada, no matter what it is, I get a 'Have a great evening' back from every single one of them. In other places you struggle to get a sentence back that doesn't contain an expletive of some sort.

All of this has confirmed and enriched an opinion I have held for a long time, that kind words go a long long way. We all have no obligation whatsoever to say something nice to complete strangers, but if I look back on the times when someone has done so for me, it always makes me smile. It costs nothing, and sometimes you catch someone at a really bad moment in their lives. Those are the times when it can really brighten someones day.

Quick shout out at the end of this post for my favourite homeless guy I've encountered in Vancouver. He walks up and down Granville Street with a sign that reads 'Smile if you masturbate.' Granted, it's an unorthadox way to cheer people up, but damn does he get a lot of smiles. And a lot of tips.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Snow Business...

I know, give me a bloody medal for that title right?!

Mount Seymour

So my last few days in Canada have all been about snow. Truth be told I was pretty crestfallen when I heard you guys back in England (if you are reading this from the UK, for all my other international followers, no snow for you!) have been getting shed loads of it, and it is in fact about ten degrees warmer here now than it is there. Suckers! But you have stolen my glory of bragging about the beautiful snow fall. But I have mountains. One-up-manship.

A snowy street in Kitsilano,

On one of my last days in Vancouver I got a holla from a friend of mine called Brad who lives in North Vancouver. I met him whilst travelling last year in Europe, Prague to be precise. As it turns out, Brad has a huge motherfudging truck, a truck he was planning to haul up to Mount Seymour that day and had invited me along. How could I resist?! That day, I saw the most snow I had ever laid eyes on, the mountain was truly beautiful. So whilst Brad and his girlfriend were collecting their ski passes, I ran around like a child, jumping in snow up to my knees. (In hindsight, an error, as I was wearing leggings. But screw hindsight, I never really liked you much anyway.)

Over the next few days we got even more snowfall, and my hostel was full of Australians who had never seen snow before. The nice thing about their excitement for it all was that it reignited my own memories of loving snow as a kid. One of them told me she didn't even knew that it floated down from the sky, she presumed it just fell like rain. She was the most excited of them all I tell you!

In recent years, snow has not been my best friend, especially when British civilisation just seems to crumble at the sight of a single flake. It was impractical at best. But hey, I'm not out here to live in the real world, so I got stuck in (as much as I could do with non-waterproof boots that soak up every single drop of water...which along with the leggings incident made me realise how hideously unprepared I am for this trip) and we headed to the make a snowman. On a beach you say?! A novelty indeed! In fact, we made a snow-WOMAN, just to blow all those stereotypes out the water. She had missing teeth, was called Patricia, and was the pride and joy of two boys who snowballed all over the beach in order to make her bigger and more impressive than the rest.
Dan, Matt and Patricia

I got to think about what it is exactly which excites everyone so much about snow, considering it is just weather. No one gets excited about a particularly strong wind do they?! But seriously cold rain and peoples go bananas. However, I've taken so many great pictures of snow, and none whatsoever of a decent gust of wind, so who am I to talk.

I have to say, my favourite thing about snow is the incredible way water forms into it. Whilst on top of Mount Seymour I took a look at some of the snowflakes close up, something which you can't really do with English snow as it melts too fast. So with these indestructible flakes which stick around in the colder temperatures, I wondered how on earth it is that when rain freezes, it makes such an utterly beautiful shape, of which no two flakes are the 100% identical. It is just one of those things about the world that blows my mind, and because of that I can forgive snow for all it's other flaws.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Curl My Bitch Up

I am pleased to announce that I now have a laptop for my further posts...Hooray! Got far too frustrated having to walk to the library every day to use the internet (albeit free) so I splashed out a little.

Truth be told there isn’t a huge amount to report from my last few days, I feel like I’ve been completely inactive. Most of my time has been filled up with hanging out with Australians (as it turns out, these people like to escape from their nice warm weather and hop over to Canada to do a ski season in the freezing cold. Make sense? Nah. I didn’t think so either.) But hey, most of them are friendly enough and I will for sure have some awesome people to stay with when I eventually do make it over there someday.

Having done all the tourist attractions (or most of them anyway, hanging out in a park when the temperature is below zero or raining isn’t so much fun) I started to sign up for some daily trips in the hostel. I’ll stay away from the slightly unsavoury activities which my parents might not want to hear about (that sounds like I sold myself for money, it wasn’t that bad) and tell you about a more honest day out I had.

Yep, that’s right, we went curling. I met a guy called Paul (Aussie, of course) in the common room of the hostel one day when he asked me what I was reading. We got chatting and he said in a very dejected tone that he was the only person on the sign-up sheet for curling in a few days time. After a few beers and a bit of convincing, I signed my name. It was a pity sign really...(sorry Paul) but a pity sign I did not regret nonetheless.

And I have to say, it was one of the best trips I’ve been on so far! A very strange sport indeed, and I begin to wonder whether the people who invented it were on something. Someone gliding a 45lb granite stone across some ice to reach a target, and several people wielding brooms to help it on its way is pretty bizarre (and dull) to watch. Once you give it a shot though, it becomes really quite entertaining. Be warned though, frantic sweeping can become tiring!

Our curling game, come on the blues!

Going in with the intention of upholding England’s gold medal in the Winter Olympics, I’m happy to say that our team won. I was told I have a natural flair for curling(!!) but I have to say, it was all luck. At the end of the day i was still on my arse at the end of my shots; not so professional.

If there’s a curling club near you, go for it!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

My First Rainy Days in Vancouver

I shall start off by warning you all that $1 for 30 minutes of internet will limit my posts on's irritating. But hey ho, here we go.

I woke up on my first day a bit fuzzy after still not a lot of sleep, to a tonne of rain. Ohhhhh good, thanks clouds. So truth be told I was pretty low. I just wanted to get out there and see the city, however (as I have proved today and will tell you in a few paragraphs time) my coat is far from waterproof. But someone up there heard my prayers and sent the sun a shinin' my way.

So I was off! And just walked. And walked. And walked. The beauty of walking is, of course, that the use of your legs is free! And being the budget backpacker that I am, I have little or no money to spend on luxuries like the bus.

So I get down to the waterfront and grab my first real view of Vancouver. Ever the tourist, I get my camera out, hit the button, and nothing. I try again...nothing. Oh good, my battery is flat!

After heading back to the hostel to put some juice back into that baby, I bump into my friend Jimmy, and he proposes a trip up to North Vancouver for some Lynn Canyon action. After popping our Seabus cherries (amazing!) we make our way north and my goodness it was sweeeeeet! This is Canadian wilderness and it was so incredible to see something like that on my first full day when all I was expecting was city skyscrapers.

I would for sure recommend a trip up there if you're ever in this area. Take a little trek into the forest, breathe in the fresh, cold, crisp air of Canadian autumn, and for goodness sake don't fall off the suspension bridge to certain death amoungst the most powerful waterfall I've ever seen. Just peek over the side and soak up the views. If anything, it truly makes you feel alive...

Day two and there is a rain forecast yet again. I pop to the front desk to ask the (British, hooray!) guy what on earth I could do on a day like this. He basically said anywhere, as long as you're ready to get wet. It's either that or stay in. So, I took my English arse out onto the street and plodded down to Granville Island. I'm not sure what my expectations were but they were completely exceeded. From the outside, or on the Granville Bridge where I got my first glimpse of it, Granville Island looks a little dull. But once you get there, you realise it's a hub of activity.

In one building there's a little burrow full of handicraft and local artisan shops to feast your eyes with. I could have literally bought presents for all of my family and friends and a million for myself also, but I resisted. It just screams of local, honest business and is so refreshing to see in a big city.

Then I got peckish, so walked round the corner to find the market of my dreams. Literally anything you could possibly want to eat all under one roof. Fresh fruit and vegetables and rich and colourful, and the breads delighted my little nose. I picked a few things from a couple of stand and made myself a little feast whilst taking in the view of the harbour (albeit a very wet harbour).

Then I made a slight error and decided to walk the entire length of West Broadway down to Main St then home. In the rain. This probably takes about two and a half hours. Like I just said, my coat is certainly not waterproof, and by the time I made it half way down Main St I was soaked to the skin. I will say however that I enjoyed my long walk, a great way to see the city. I did eventually give in a take the Skyline train back home, sheepishly walking into my hostel and diving past the guy at front desk, avoiding the 'I told you so!'

There we go, a quick whistle stop talk of my first few days here, more to come...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Hello Canada, nice to meet you.

A quick little note to notify you all that I am finally here in Vancouver, hooray! Although my journey didn't come without it's slight hiccups.

There I was bumbling through check-in and security, still weeping slightly (I got some funny looks...) from saying goodbye to George when he dropped me off, overwhelmed by the thought that I wouldn't see a familiar face for two whole months. It wasn't until I was sat in the Departures lounge and heard my first ''aboot'' from this little Canadian lady when I thought I was probably in safe hands.

 Everything seemed to be going fairly smoothly, until we got through boarding and were told on the plane that we'd be delayed by two hours. Bloody foggy London town being too foggy for planes to see where they're going!! However, things could have been worse, it wasn't too much of a delay and we were off.

After not sleeping a wink on the flight (Oh how I tried, drinking several complimentary beers in very little time to encourage sleep still didn't work) I got to Vancouver with a very addled little brain thinking it was the middle of the night. And then the angriest passport control woman came into my life. She didn't seem to comprehend why exactly it was that I wanted to be here, tourism was not a good enough answer...! So i was made to feel like a criminal and sent to the Immigration offive to explain why I'm such a scoundral wanting to visit another country just to see the sights.

Anyway, I made it. And then drunk beer until midnight with a Canadian guy named Jimmy, who kindly listened to the drunken ramblings of a sleep deprived crazy zombie me.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Marrakech Part Four: The Art of Haggling

So, as a final segment, how could I possibly overlook the main attraction and simultaneously a dramatic downfall to the beautiful city of Marrakech? This of course being that if you want to take away any souvenir or memento from your trip, you’ve gotta be prepared to haggle.
Some fancy bags
hanging in the

I’ll start by informing you all that I must admit, I hate the whole bloody charade. The majority of my comrades with which I was travelling just couldn’t get enough of the whole excitement of it all. I couldn’t help but think ‘Can’t I just buy the damn thing at a reasonable price and be done with it?!’

My hatred for this silly act probably boils down to the fact that I’m just so rubbish at it. If I see something I want to buy, I’m the kind of person utterly consumed with this object. I must have it, I cannot possibly leave this country without purchasing this item, and if I don’t, I will sit on the plane and daydream about how I left this item behind, abandoned but its one true owner. I am so transparent in feeling this way that the shopkeepers believe they hit the jackpot in the customer lottery, and without assistance, I pay far too much in the end.

The real secret to the haggle, which several of my companions were exceptionally good, at is to pretend like you don’t really want it (which in itself to me seems utterly ridiculous). But my goodness does it work like a charm. As soon as they see the little glint of disinterest in your eye, the shopkeepers instantly consider lowering their price at the thought of losing one dirham of business.

Some beautiful fabrics
stacked up the ceiling
It’s all about a competition of wills. The customers and shopkeeper battle it out to test who is the strongest. Who wants this more, the customer or the seller? And who is more willing to sacrifice their pride? It must either be the customer paying far more than the shopkeeper knows he is will to reduce is price to, or the shopkeeper making one final attempt and producing an absolute bargain price for a very happy customer. I know which one I’d prefer anyway.

But as well as it being a test between customer and proprietor, the tradesmen have so much competition between themselves also. If you look interested in a scarf, the likelihood is that you will then be approached by a number of different sellers trying to lure you into their shop. In this case I’d say stick to your guns and one seller, the others will probably be too consumed in finding their next potential customer to care. You have plenty of time to browse them all and a lot of the products around the markets are much the same anyway.

If you know you’re not a fan of arguing (on a mostly friendly basis you must understand) with strangers over the price of things, than I suggest you go to Marrakech with someone who does, otherwise you’ll end up being seriously out of pocket. As long as you take the whole thing pretty light-heartedly, and don’t name a price too low in case of offended the shopkeepers, then it can be a fun experience, and something you just have to try at last once whilst you’re there. I myself will always have Jenna or Helen by my side!

A view of the infamous square by night