Archive for April, 2009

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

The tour of Auschwitz was a haunting one, walking through a place where over a million people were systematically killed. There were mounds of hair that were on display that Nazi soldiers had been storing for later use, to make into textiles to later be turned into coats. In the gas chambers, it was hard to conceptualize the scale of everything, hundreds of people killed at at time.

We sat in silence most of the way on the ride back to Krakow.

Gold medals for Tallinn, Estonia

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Nat suggested a bicycle tour in Tallinn, Estonia and I’m so glad we did it because it was a great way to see a lot of the city in a short span of time.

Since then, we have also done a quirky bike tour in Vilnius, Lithuania and we’ll be heading out this afternoon to explore Krakow, Poland on bicycles as well. And then another one in Prague, Czech Republic in a couple of days.

European cities, as far as I’ve been able to tell, are very bike friendly. There seems to be bike lanes everywhere and it’s very easy to get around.

Fast and furious in Eastern Europe

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Our schedule has accelerated a little bit because some trains weren’t available on the days we wanted, but flexibility is the key!

Last night in Riga, Latvia we had an opportunity to take in Romeo and Juliet at the National Opera. It was a stunning ballet performance and it has whetted my appetite for more European shows. We also made our way up to the top of St. Peter’s church for a bird’s eye viwe of the city and then wandered to the Art Nouveau district to see some of the wacky architecture from that period. After enjoying a beautiful morning tea and coffee at the centre square in Riga, we dashed off to the bus station to make our way to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Upon arriving in Vilnius, we had read that there was a secret tile in front of the cathedral in town upon which you could spin clockwise and make a wish. We found it and made our wishes, but sadly our eggs which we have been carrying around did not turn to gold, though there was a nice golden sheen to the yolk. Perhaps we weren’t specific enough.

We saw a poster for a Lithuanian performance of Sweeney Todd and we were pretty pumped to go see it, but upon arriving at the box office, we were told all the tickets were sold out. We ended the evening with some traditional Lithuanian food. I had “bowels stuffed with potato – similar to ‘hagis'” and Nat had potato pancakes with tomato and zucchini. The Lithuanians are quite proud of their beer and rightly so – it tastes pretty great. The beer here is served in either 30 cl or 50 cl portions.

Tomorrow morning, a bike tour of Vilnius and then off to Krakow, Poland!

Wake me up before you go-go

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009


While on the ferry to Tallinn, most of the passengers under 40 were doing karaoke. We heard some pretty fantastic renditions of Time After Time, Living Next Door to Alice, Every Breath You Take, and countless Estonian songs.

But karaoke’s no fun if you’re not singing too. So we joined in with some Wham. There have been many times in the past week when I try to summarize what is going on in a single sentence and it usually sounds pretty surreal. “Today, I sang, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ on a ferry going from Sweden to Estonia with a friend I met in Ghana.”

Tallinn, Estonia from Oleviste Church

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009


From Lonely Planet Eastern Europe:

First built in the early 13th century, it was once the worlds tallest building. The church is dedicated to the 11th-century King Olav II of Norway, but linked in local lore with another Olav, the church’s architect, who fell to his death from the tower. It is said that a toad and a snake then crawled out of his mouth. The observation deck is halfway up the 124 metre structure.

It takes two to Tallinn

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

While on the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia from Stockholm, Sweden, after searching a city map for a while, I declared, “I think there’s a mistake in here” and Nat pointed at exactly what I was looking for, “This?”. Oh. And it’s moments like those and many others that I’m thankful to be traveling with a partner. It all began in Ghana from a random conversation about a mutual desire to travel Eastern Europe. (Though I’m told that people living in northeastern Europe prefer the term “Central Europe”) And so we made our way to Estonia without too many plans as to where we were going or how long we would be here. We would figure it out along the way.

According to our Lonely Planet book, Estonia is famous for Eurovision, Skype & Kazaa, and saunas. The population is about 1.32 million with 400,000 people living in Tallinn.

Tallinn is a heavy place. It carries the weight of hundreds of years of history and more recently, the memory of Communist rule. We visited the former KGB headquarters and noted the symbols of the hammer and sickle scattered throughout the city and its architecture. I noticed that there is a certain dignified seriousness about the people who live here.

A Jazz Festival also happened to be happening during our time here and we had the opportunity to take in a performance of Tok Tok Tok at the Vene Kultuurikeskus. After the performance, I was approached by a gentleman who wanted a brief interview with an audience member. “They put on a good show and I had a good time!” Obviously, I should be a professional music reviewer.

We also had a chance to ride Segways in downtown Tallinn, roam around the old city; sweat it out in a sauna, and cycle around the city. For me, the highlight was the bicycle tour, as it gave us an opportunity to see a great deal of the city in a short period of time with a helpful guide, Tomas. We saw a dark Soviet obelisk, the Kadriorg Palace, designed for Peter the Great and Catherine I and the 15th-century Swedish Convent of St. Brigitta. I will post pictures when I get a chance.

Next stop, Riga, Latvia!

Rolling oranges in Copenhagen

Monday, April 20th, 2009

In Copenhagen, I didn’t really go to any of the museums or galleries. I simply roamed around and lost myself in the city and followed random signs. While in Ghana, our group had a conversation about the kind of music we would want played at our weddings. As I walked down the streets of Copenhagen I heard a couple of musicians playing the song that I wanted, so I stopped for about half an hour, just listening.

When they stopped, I turned around and saw a tall tower rising into the sky. It looked inviting. So I walked in, paid the admission and started up the tower. I was expecting a set of stairs, but it was one giant spiral rising up into the air. The Round Tower is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe and when I reached the top, it presented a fantastic view of Copenhagen.

On the way down, I thought to myself how fantastic it would be if I had a ball to throw down this giant spiral. Then I remembered I had an orange in my bag. So I pulled it out and rolled it… and it began picking up speed. Children and adults looked on with amusement as I chased my orange down the spiral to the bottom. The orange was nice and mushy when I ate it.

Trinitatis Kirke in Copenhagen

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I’m always drawn to places of worship whenever I travel. I love walking through them and just marveling at the architecture. Trinitatis Kirke in Copenhagen was quite a sight to behold.


I love Sweden in the springtime

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

It had been nearly 5 years since I had last seen Emmy. And as I had hugged her goodbye on that cold wintry morning in Waterloo, I wondered if I would ever see hehr again. When I was in Copenhagen, I sent her a message to ask her if she lived near Stockholm. As it turns out, Malmo is just across the bridge from Copenhagen and before I knew it, I was on a train to see her.

Emmy was the first international roommate I ever shared a house with and I have a lot of fond memories from the times we shared together.

We spent the afternoon catching up, sitting in the sunshine next to a canal and then she took me through a short tour of Malmo. I was blown away by how beautiful the parks are and hwo close they are to the city center. A few hours later, I found myself enjoying a barbeque with Emmy and her friends in the local park. It was the first barbeque of the season and the air was filled with tasty smoke and music.

As soon as the sun set, the night turned chilly and we migrated to a warm apartment where I heard fascinating tales about the Swedish army, Japanese earthquakes and recommendations on places to see when in Eastern Europe. Before I knew it, it was approaching midnight and the last train of the day was departing in 20 minutes.

Emmy hopped onto a bike and told me to sit on the rack on the back. As we rolled through the chilly streets of Malmo, I marveled at how lucky I was to be able to visit a friend on the other side of the ocean, almost by coincidence, because I had almost decided not to stop in Copenhagen. My time in Malmo will definitely be one of the highlights of my time overseas.

From Accra to Amsterdam to Copenhagen

Friday, April 17th, 2009

I spent my last weekend in Ghana visiting Mole National Park with Will and Florin, two fellow Canadians who are working in Kumasi. Mole was great fun and we met plenty of other travelers during our travels. Sleeping on the roof of the Salia Brothers Guesthouse in Larabanga and waking up at 4 am to the call to prayer will certainly be a memorable moment from Ghana. My bus from Kumasi to Accra was a few hours late, but I was still able to thankfully catch my plane. I had an interesting time convincing officials that the Fan Ice (ice cream) I had in my bag was in fact, not a liquid, but a solid, because of its frozen state. Surprisingly, I was able to get it through the x-ray and onto the plane.

It was difficult leaving Ghana and I felt this quite acutely upon arriving in Amsterdam. I had moved from a place that had began to feel familiar to one that felt quite foreign to me. I found myself beginning to say Mede Ase, Twi for thank you, to people, and realizing that I was no longer in Ghana.

My first 24 hours in Amsterdam were quite difficult as my stomach rebelled, I assume because it was trying to cope with a European diet. I spent most of the day lying down and hoping that it would all go away. I was not too upset that I did not have time to explore Amsterdam in more detail because I will be returning to the city before leaving for Canada.

Originally, I had not planned on stopping in Copenhagen, but Nat had mentioned that it was quite nice so I shifted my schedule a bit and I am glad I did. I am totally digging the city and I spent my day just walking around, getting hopelessly lost in the city and just looking for subtle signs from the universe to direct me. It seems to have worked out pretty well.

Tomorrow will either find me exploring Copenhagen in more detail, or traveling to Malmo, Sweden to meet up with a friend. On Sunday, it is off to Stockholm to meet up with Nat and then onwards with more adventuring!

Phonepost

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Another audio phonepost!

Phonepost

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Another audio phonepost!

Phonepost

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Another audio phonepost!

Phonepost

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Another audio phonepost!

Kola Nuts

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

I read about kola nuts in the travel guide. They were described as a
mild narcotic that tends to be chewed by people in the predominantly
Muslim areas of northern Ghana since alcohol is forbidden. When I did
some further research on it, it turns out that they contain a good
amount of caffeine as well. So when I saw kola nuts in the market, I
picked a couple up at 20 pesowas each.

When I got home that evening, I carefully examined the kola nut. I took
a deep breath, bit into it and chewed. And I nearly threw up in my
mouth. Kola nut is undoubtedly the most bitter thing I have ever put in
my mouth. This is supposed to be the traditional gift presented to kings
(in addition to schnapps)? And who, upon tasting this, would make a
DRINK out of this? (Coca-Cola)

I quickly took a drink of water and swallowed the kola nut pieces in my
mouth. Most people would have stopped here, but no, determined that I
would acquire a taste for it, I took another bite and chewed. I
scrunched up my face. The bitterness was simply too much and I spat it
out. No euphoric effect either. I spoke to another Canadian yesterday
who had a similar experience, lots of bitterness, no euphoria.

I’ll have to stick to the mass quantities of Fanta I have been consuming
since arriving in Ghana.

Meeting a prince

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Vees and I, after wandering around Jamestown, a suburb of Accra, for a
couple of hours.

Vees pointed at a building with two lions out in front and said that was
where the king lived. Really? Yes. And does the king receive visitors?
He said that the traditional gift to bring to a king was a bottle of
foreign schnapps. And where can I get some schnapps? Well, there’s no
liquor store around here, but a bit of cash will do. Well, let’s go meet
a king then!

And I was brought to a man sitting at a table reading a newspaper. He
asked me to have a seat. So why have you come to see me? I’m interested
in learning more about you – are you really a king? He responded that
his father was the king and that he was a chief who presided over civil
disputes in the community. I had always thought that people had to speak
to royalty in Ghana through an interpreter? A common misconception he
informed me, if I speak English and you speak English, it would only be
natural to speak in the same language, right? Interpreters were used in
the past when not everyone spoke English. From there, he proceeded to
give me a history of Jamestown – it was built in 1642, and the palace
was built in 1673. First harbour was built in 1872. When asked what his
biggest challenges were, he said drinking water, peace, shelter,
education, health care and financial liberation.

The entire experience was sort of surreal.

Tires and goats

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

And from the top of the lighthouse, I saw black smoke billowing up from
the beach in the distance. What’s that? Vees replied that people were
cooking goats. Can we go see? And so he took me closer. Blood and
entrails decorated the street as vultures circled overhead looking for
an opportunity to feast. The charred carcasses of goats were being
scraped by young men before they were loaded into the trunks of taxis
and taken to the market.

As we walked closer to the place where the goats were being cooked on
the beach, I saw why there was so much black smoke. Tires were being
used to fuel the fire. At first, I thought about all the toxins that
must be released into the meat (and the air), but then I had to pause
and really think about it – was it really all that different from all
the preservatives I consume on a daily basis back in Canada?

The Jamestown Lighthouse

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

As soon as I opened the door of the cab, he appeared and insisted on
showing me around. No thanks, I replied, and continued walking. But he
was persistent. How much are you charging? Nothing! I just want to show
you around. I knew he would be expecting some payment when the tour was
finished, but since I had nothing otherwise scheduled, I figured, why
not? He introduced himself as Vees, but his nickname was "Nice One" as
he gestured to the back of his shirt. Indeed, he had the words "Nice
One" on the back in big letters and as we walked through the town,
that’s what everyone called him.

The lighthouse gave a spectacular view of Jamestown and the surrounding
area. He pointed at his house where a pair of neon green shorts hung on
the clothesline. We later visited his place and a old woman outside
offered me a small fried red fish no bigger than the palm of my hand. I
tried to politely decline, explaining I had already eaten, but she insisted.

It was absolutely delicious.

I thanked her in Twi and I asked Vees if I should offer her some payment
in return. No, he responded, she just wanted to give you a fish, just
say thank you.

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

I celebrated April Fools’ Day with the dreaded blue screen of death. No
problem, I reasoned, it’s just a glitch. Then it happened again… and
again… and again. Then my laptop wouldn’t even boot up. Then it
started working again, sort of. It would crash every time the laptop
moved or shook slightly. Then this morning, it completely zonked out.
And so I headed to "La Circle" in Accra, purchased a shaving brush and a
set of screwdrivers and went to work. I completely disassembled my
laptop, swept out all the dust and reassembled it. It limped back to
life, but was still giving me random crashes. Finally, after much trial
and error, I determined a certain area of the motherboard that was
causing the error when I pushed down on it. So, I cut off the end of my
toothbrush, wedged it inside against the problem area, screwed
everything back together and everything seems to be okay, as long as I
don’t jostle the computer or make any sudden movements it is happy. I’m
pretty sure it’s a loose contact somewhere, but it’s doubtful I’ll be
able to get my hands on a soldering iron with a superfine tip while I’m
in Ghana.

Speaking at the workshop in Koforidua

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Though I stood in front and spoke, I had much to learn as well.