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Archive for the ‘Travel’ topic

EU Citizens Soon Won’t Need a Visa to Travel to Exotic Islands

Scene of a blue sky, turquoise ocean, white beach and a distant sail boat.

If you have been dreaming about clear blue skies, turquoise oceans, white beaches and nothing to do all day, hope may be on its way. Traveling to exotic islands as an EU citizen will soon become a little bit easier. By the end of March, the EU commision plans on removing the visa requirements for European citizens and the residents of the following islands: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Mauritius and the SeyChelles

And if you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, but can’t afford traveling to paradise, there is always the Groove Armada alternative.

Exotic Train Travel: a list of the nine best rail journeys

The Tangula luxury train traveling through the Uninhabitable yet beautiful landscape of Tibet.

Having finally taken the Eurostar from Brussels to London and back, it not only struck me how small Europe has actually become; compared to the state of air travel to today, trains have become a lot more enjoyable and comfortable way to travel. While it’s hard to claim the Eurostar trip as being exotic, other rail lines do speak to the imagination. For example the Orient Express, that in its heyday followed the famous silk road. Or the Trans Siberian, which probably is not only the longest rail line in the world, but is also a destination in itself. “The nine best train journeys in the world” has put together a list of the more interesting rail lines, some of which I had never even heard of up until now. Never the less, they all look quite interesting.

One line missing though is the Tangula, which connects Beijing with Lhasa in Tibet. Maybe out of political correctness? The railroad itself is a remarkable feat in engineering that traverses through some of the most harshest environments on this planet. Because of the extreme heights it runs at, the cabins are pressurized. There is already a regular line running on this route, but apparently, the Chinese have also added a luxury train.

Great for Beijing, but for Tibet however, the railroad is a threat. For it has long been Beijing’s policy to actively relocate and subsidize the majority Han Chinese to the poorer areas of the country. From their point of view, they are simply spreading prosperity and trying to increase the standards of living for all Chinese. But with this new rail line, traveling and moving to Tibet has become a lot more easier. The danger for Tibet however is the further loss of their culture, identity, but most important of all, their autonomy. If they had any left. The Tangula is probably one of those rides you have to take with a lot of mixed feelings.

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire: Boy dressed as the Hindi god Rama

It was 1985. We were flying back from Belgium to Bangladesh and had to spend a night in Bombay in order to make our connecting flight the next day. We arrived after dark and were whisked off to a hotel that attempted to convey a sense of high establishment. But in fact, it was suffering from the high humidity in the air. Living in the tropics, carpeted floors were a luxury and it was here where I could see firsthand why. As we walked through the hallways towards our rooms, I witnessed how water dripped from the ceilings down on to the damp hallway carpets. And anything damp in this climate starts to rot. I’ve slept in far worse places since then, but at the time, I was glad we were only staying a single night.
We would return to the airport the very next morning. The sun was up and it was on our way there that I saw Bombay as it really was for the first time. Even though at that point, we had lived in Dhaka for two years, that short ride was sufficient to give me one of the worst culture shocks of my life. The amount of poverty I saw out on those streets was indescribable.

The God Shiva as Nataraja performing the dance of destruction and creation

Slumdog Millionaire takes place in this very same city. Nowadays, it is called Mumbai. The story itself is told in an unconventional yet refreshing way. At first, I thought there really wasn’t a story but simply an account of what it was like growing up in the slums of Bombay. Sort of like watching a travel documentary of a place that otherwise would remain completely alien to us. The cinematography is wonderfully beautiful even though the scenes it depicts aren’t. We are shown the poverty and pollution inside the amazing network of a large slum city. It’s the Bombay I remember driving though as a child.
The film shifts gear half way through, and slowly but surely, an innocent love story starts to emerge between two of the slum dwellers. As they struggle to stay together, it’s the harsh reality of their situation that keeps getting in their way.
While this film reminds me a lot of another excellent movie: Cidade de Deus (City of God), it’s comes over as a more optimistic film despite the environment in which it takes place. Well worth seeing.

The Places We Live

Sticking to the same subject. Here is an interesting site that documents 16 people around the world talking about their homes inside these slum cities and their lives. Also in sort of the same vein are the photographs of Michael Wolf. While technically they’re not slums, he went out to photograph 100 people in their apartments in Honk Kong. The apartments are all pretty much the same, just small boxes. But each one is personalized telling us something about the lives of its inhabitants.

Animated Safety Procedures

Another safety card. This time animated. It really gives you that shocking sense of emergency one might experience when you discover the plane you are in is about to fall out of the sky.

The Mayoka House

The Mayoka House

Lately, passive buildings have been getting a lot of press. The technology behind it has finally reached the point where such buildings are insulated so well, extra heating is hardly necessary. A notable example is the zero emmision Prinsess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica.  But with insulation also comes isolation from the outside world.

But isolation is generally excepted here in Europe as a good quality to have for your building. A house should protect you not only from the elements, but nature in general, such as wild animals and insects. It must keep out sounds and smells. It should afford privacy from nosy neighbors. In other words, the perfect home should keep everything out with the exception of invited guests and sunlight. So much so that we simply take this for granted.

Returning to Malawi was therefore a revelation. I had forgotten what it was like to live in an open house. You notice the difference the moment you step inside. Most of the places I stayed at in Malawi where mostly built with one goal: to protect you from the rain. People here live most of their lives outside anyway. Cooking, eating, washing, socializing, it’s all done outside. It not only makes you feel healthier, constantly being exposed to the elements probably also builds your resistance. In that sense, we are quite spoilt here in the west. I came to this conclusion when I realized I could, live, work and do my groceries without having to spend more then three minutes outside in a single day. The rest is all spent inside, isolated from the rest of the world.

The Mayoka House

The Mayoka House

Living in an open house on the other hand is like living in a tent, only with a bit more room and comfort. Even though you are inside, you can sense the changes in the weather. You can hear everything around the house loud and clear, as if you weren’t surrounded by four walls. Mayoka Village, a hostel where I stayed went even a step further. Taking a shower was a real sensation. You could do so while enjoying the view of the bay. You could even hold face to face conversations with passerby’s without fear of exposing the rest of your body. Basically, you’re half inside, half outside.

And it was inspiring. With that in mind, I’ve created the Mayoka house. It has no windows and no doors that can be opened and closed. Everything is left exposed. It simply functions as a placeholder in our lives. A sort of marker that states this is sort of the space where we live around. The layout itself is very basic. It has bed, a table, a built in shelf and a washing area that is a bit more protected to offer its occupants some privacy. But even in this enclosed area, one can always maintain complete contact with the outside world.

In other words, it’s not a space to live in, but more to live around.

The 747 Hostel


From the country that brought us ice hotels, Sweden will soon introduce a hostel housed inside of a decommissioned Boeing 747-200. Personally, I’ve found airplanes to be one of the least comfortable places to sleep in. Only on the rare occasion when I was able to secure a whole isle for myself, have I enjoyed quality sleep high up in the skies. And my fear is that even this option may soon be a  thing of the past. I’ve started to notice that to cut costs, more and more airlines are implementing arm rests that can’t be folded up and out of the way.

So in future, the only chance one may have of ever sleeping comfortably again in an aircraft, may be either in the expensive  luxury suites onboard the new Airbus 380’s. Or in The Jumbo Hostel.  With 25 rooms and 85 actual beds, the only downside would be that unlike the a380’s, this one will be staying put.

Airport Dwellers

Hiroshi Nohara, AP

Hiroshi Nohara, AP

Early September, Mr. Nohara, a Japanese citizen, landed in Mexico City. We are now three months later, and he still hasn’t left the airport. He does have a return ticket and airport officials can’t really do anything about it until his tourist visa expires. In other words, he is free to either leave the airport or return home. But for the time being, he is staying put. He is now living his life inside a terminal and getting by with food donations from other travelers.

When asked why he was there, he didn’t know himself. He just wanted to smell the Mexican air from the airport. Because he is traveling alone, I personally think he is suffering from travel anxiety. He probably did want to visit Mexico. But now that he is in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar language, he may very well be paralyzed as what to do next. Going home is not an option, that would mean personal defeat. But leaving the airport on the other hand means taking a leap of faith. Something he may not be ready to do. So he stays in the one safe place he knows, the airport.

Another famous case is that of the Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri. He was the inspiration for the film: The Terminal with Tom Hanks. He lived for eight years at Charles de Gaul airport in Paris. At first glance, it would seem that he found himself in a catch 22 predicament when his refugee status documents were stolen on his way from Paris to London. Without proper documents, London sent him back to Paris. His refugee papers had been issued by the Belgian government and the only way to get replacements was to get them in person. But for that, he had to travel to Belgium, which he couldn’t do without first getting his refugee papers back.

When you first hear this story, you have to wonder how it’s possible that someone is left to live for eight years in limbo in a first world nation. But when I dug a little deeper, it seems, this Kafka situation was entirely of his own making. He refused every solution offered to him that didn’t involve moving to the United Kingdom. First of all, he wasn’t living in the transit zone, like in the Tom Hanks movie, but in the departure hall. He was free to leave at any time. By 1996 when his whole ordeal started, France and Belgium had already signed the Schengen Agreement and opened each others borders. In other words, he could have easily taken a train from CDG in Paris, and been in Brussels two hours later without having to show any papers other then his train ticket. When Belgium did offer to send him new refugee status documents – rather then having to pick it up in person – it came with conditions. He had to live in Belgium for at least three years under the supervision of a social worker. He refused stating that he didn’t want to stay in Belgium, he wanted to live in the UK. At that point, the Belgium government must have given up on him and withdrew his refugee status.

In the mean time, he was probably living off the royalties of his book he had written about his life in the terminal, and later also from the Spielberg movie. But as the years passed by, he apparently grew more and more insane. Finally, he was hospitalized. It’s not clear if he is still alive, and if he is, where he is now.

On a personal note: I twice had to spend five hours in a Berlin airport, and was bored silly after the first twenty minutes. The ten hours in total that I spent there were an ordeal. With that in mind, if one were to become an Airport Dweller, which airports in the world would be the best suited to live in?

Airline Safety Cards

sabena_safetycardssabena20boeing20747-200Sabena convair

A site that collects airline safety cards. How magically wonderful! I can’t count the times I’ve secretly wanted to actually steal one of these. I would love to take one with me as a parting memento of another successful flight through the skies. I’ve even entertained the idea of smuggling out a life vest. But I never do. I always think to myself: what if the next passenger to sit here would find himself in a dire situation. Lets say for example: the plane falling out of the sky.
It happens.
And when it does,
he would completely be at loss without his card.
And that would be so sad.

More distressing is the disappearance of the safety dance. A ritual every stewardess must perform before we can take to the skies. More and more airlines are now replacing it with safety videos. Call me nostalgic but it was those little things that used to make air travel fun. And so I’m reminded of this beautifully drawn little gem.

Hitch a Ride on a Cargo Ship

While a cruise on a luxury ship has never really appealed to me, I have discovered a new found love for ocean travel. Great was my surprise when I discovered that it is possible to ride along with one of the many cargo ships that cross our seas. They are the unsung hero’sof our globalized world. But social commentary aside, there is something to be said about slow travel. It’s an excellent way of stepping out of our hectic lives and coming to terms with how to fill your time once you’re confronted with too much of it.

Little red ship at Neko Harbour

Where my love of ocean travel began.

Freight travel by sea also has a notorious reputation for serving really great food. With crews away from home for months at a time, it has been proved that a world class chef onboard is the best way to keep morale high for those long trips out at sea. Traveling with a freight line is not cheap however. But you do get your own cabin rather then being packed and sealed into one of the containers they are transporting. And did I mention the food?

Nowadays, there  is also the added excitement of being boarded by pirates and taken hostage for huge ransoms. Chanses of stumbling across Jack Sparrow may be slim in this day and age, but still. Imagine the stories you could tell. And believe me, if you had to choose between buccaneering with pirates or sharing a plane with a terrorist, I would go for the first.

Any way, more information about cargo travel can be found over here: http://thetravelersnotebook.com/how-to/how-to-travel-by-cargo-ship/

Travel Photos

My travel itinerary
My travel itinerary

I’ve just exported my facebook photo’s from my previous travels to this site. So for those of you who don’t wish to have a facebook account, feel free to view them over here.

The latest photo’s are from my last trip to Malawi. I spent the first week in Machinjiri with my family. After that, I traveled north.

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T-shirts with the god Shiva print