In Favour of the Roads Well Travelled

 

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Travel articles and blogs about ‘the road less travelled’ are in abundance. People, I included, love reading about strange, foreign, exotic and off the beaten track paths – places where only the most daring dares to go and where the rest of us probably will never set foot. I reckon that’s why we love it so much – reading about far-off places and dreaming impossible dreams, knowing that we will probably never make it there and instead, we admire those adventurers who do.

Few writers today still bother to write about the roads well-travelled other as in travelling advertisements, because what self-respecting, do-things-differently, adventure seeking person these days would find the London Tower or the Eiffel or the Wailing Wall exotic enough to read about and dream about to visit. Travel articles nowadays must be all about exploring the unknown, the almost never-visited before, to be attractive enough to publish.

Travelling had become fairly easy in the past three decades. We live in a global enclave, which makes almost every place on earth accessible within a day or at most – two. So why bother with the ‘mundane’ travel destinations if you can be the first Western person to be seen in some remote jungle village of some South American tribe, living without any modern conveniences? Or sail to the most southern uninhabited island on earth or go to a quiet corner of the Antarctic to witness the consequences of global warming first-hand? It’s just more exciting! It’s exhilarating! It sells travel magazines. It generates more traffic to blogs and online mags.

But as someone who had only travelled a little bit and will probably always be limited to visiting only a few of the many, many, many places I dream about, I believe that there are still words left to be written about the roads well-travelled. Because if your opportunities and resources for travelling are limited, one tends to want to see first-hand those most ‘common’ sites you always see in movies and on TV.

Naturally your walk in the Bog Nature Trial in the Soomaa National Park in Estonia would make grand dinner conversation. Of course you would first have to  orientate your guests on a map to where Estonia is! Or imagine telling you bird watching friends about you seeing one of the last Great Indian Bustard nests in India? And obviously, you can’t go wrong with showing off your photos taken from Uhuru and Kibo peaks on Mount Kilimanjaro, because even if it had become a bit of fashionable trip to do these days, you can still get away with it under the ‘adventurous’ label. You will after all be only one of about 22 500 people in the world who did it this year in comparison to the millions who have travelled to London to see old Buckingham Palace! Yawn…

But for the person who will only travel once or a handful of times in his or her lifetime due to reasons such as limited resources or health restrictions that keep them from hunting great adventures such as walking the swamps of the Amazon, intruding on the habitat of petrifying Anacondas – visiting the Taj Mahal in India or the pyramids of Giza in Egypt or the Garden Tomb in Israel, will still be more than awesome! It will also be the fulfilment of a lifelong dream, just as the Amazon-thing is to the extreme adventurer.

For us, the travellers with limitations, the mere site of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked, is absolutely breath taking! And to have a photo that you have taken yourself of the Eiffel on your own camera’s memory card, is a dream come true! Because you may have climbed a hill on precisely the right day of the year to harvest one of the world’s rarest truffle in the French countryside, but imagine your friends’ faces when you arrive back home and they ask you about the Eiffel and your answer is “No, I haven’t seen the Eiffel, but I did harvest the world’s most exotic truffle!” Except, if you are a foodie and all your friends are foodies too, it will sound outrageous!

Us normal people of limited resources are satisfied to see the Eiffel and Wailing Wall or the Tower Bridge or the Big Ben or the Colosseum or maybe even the beautiful blue roofs of Mykonos and Santorini (instead of a less visited Greek islands with rarer stones to see). We are quite okay with it if we can only visit one of those magnificent places we see in movies and on TV programs in our lifetime. And when we watch a movie or TV again and we recognise one of those places and know that we had been there and that our feet walked where so many others have walked before – the fortunate and the unfortunate, the famous and the not-famous, the conqueror and the loser, the adventurer and the… us – we will feel thankful and privileged. Just because we were given the opportunity to see it with our own eyes.

There is still much to be said about the roads well-travelled, and very few of us will be able to travel all those roads, so if you get the opportunity – take it! And think of it this way: Even if you will never have the ability to visit any of these well-known or less-known places, you might live in a place on someone’s bucket list.

Explore your own surroundings. Visit that ‘boring’ battle field again that you had to visit on a school field trip. Go to that monument, read up on the beginnings of your town or city, because chances are that you are living near a place that someone else dreams about visiting. Go today. Pay it a visit. Take a picture (or a selfie if you can’t convince anyone to go with you on your ‘adventure’) and put it on social media. And know that your feet have walked where other feet had fought or made history or had new beginnings. Because even though we sometimes don’t realise it: One man’s home  can be just another man’s dream destination.

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Our family at one of those ‘boring’ well-travelled places – The beautiful island of Mykonos in Greece.

 

© 2016  – I, Fielies (also Riëtte) De Kock is trying hard to be an awesomest wife and greatest lover, finest mom and to write something all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s two cats and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function normally.

High Above the Clouds / Hoog bo die wolke

English version

This will be recorded as one of my most beautiful memories ever. We are on an Egypt Air flight from Amsterdam to Cairo.

Deon and I always listen to Paul Wilbur’s ‘Shema’ together on shared earphones when they play the Islamic prayers on the small screen – something that is done before every flight. Normally I switch my phone off after this, because I want to keep it charged should I need to make a call after we have landed. But today I keep listening. The time between sitting on the tarmac and take off can be a bit boring sometimes.

It is a majestic feeling when a plane jets into the air with the forceful sounds of Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’ in your ears. Outside the lush green landscape of Amsterdam is left on the ground as the plane swoops through the thick clouds to glide above them. This is one of the most beautiful pictures my eyes ever had the privilege of seeing! The cotton wool-like clouds are bundled onto each other with no earth to see down below. The music is still playing while I hear my spirit whisper in my heart: “Thanks for beautiful things, Father!” and “Thanks for all the undeserved treats. Thanks for all the places we see that I’ve never thought I would see and thanks for seeing some more than once!”

And then I heard the Halleluja choir with ‘Ode to Joy’ and Susan Boyle sings ‘Then sings my soul’, while mine sings with. I ‘halleluYAH’ on with Leonard Cohen and Delaney en Bonnie’s ‘Never Ending Song of Live’ follows passionately. Then André Rieu’s orchestra played “Auld Lang Syne’ and I long to be with my family and I wonder what they are all doing on this spring Sunday afternoon in South Africa. While I’m still wondering Neil Diamond makes a ‘Beautiful Noise’ and on the note of ‘Hava Nagila’ I have to close the plane window a bit, because the son reflects quite sharply from the Alps down below.

My finger chooses Josh Grobin’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire’ almost automatically, because one always tends to feel closer to heaven so high up in the air.

In the aisle seat Michael sat cramped-in and reads his new book and in the middle, next to me Deon rests on his forehead against the front seat, trying to sleep. I trust on his cell phone today should we need to make calls on the other side. For now my phone’s battery will help Josh fly high above the clouds over Europe.

Afrikaans

Hierdie sal in my onthou opgeteken word as een van die mooiste memoeries ooit! Ons is op ‘n Egypt Air-vlug oppad terug van Amsterdam na Kaïro.

Ek en Deon luister altyd na die ‘Shema’ van Paul Wilbur oor gedeelde oorfone as hulle die Islamitese gebede op die klein skerm wys – iets wat voor elke vlug gedoen word. Normaalweg skakel ek my foon hierna af, omdat ek nie die battery wil pap maak nie vir ingeval ek dit nodig sou kry nadat ons geland het. Maar vandag hou ek aan luister. Die tyd tussen in die vliegtuig sit op die aanloopbaan en opstyg kan nogal vervelig wees.

Dis ‘n majestieuse gevoel as ‘n straler opstyg met Verdi se ‘Nabucco’ se klanke in jou ore. Buite het ons die lowergroen landskap van Amsterdam op die grond gelos en die vliegtuig het die dik wolke ingeswiep – na waar ons bokant hulle sweef. Dit is een van die mooiste, mooiste prentjies wat my oë ooit die voorreg gehad het om te sien! Die wolke is soos watte-berge op mekaar gestapel, met niks aarde onder ons te sien nie. Die musiek hou aan speel, terwyl ek my gees in my hart hoor fluister: “Dankie vir mooi dinge, Vader!” en “Dankie vir al die onverdiende voorregte. Dankie dat ons plekke kan sien wat ek nooit gedink het moontlik is nie en party wéér kan sien.”

En toe hoor ek die Halleluja-koor en ‘Ode to Joy’ en Susan Boyle sing ‘Then sings my soul’, terwyl myne saam sing. En ek ‘halleluYAH’ verder saam met Leonard Cohen. En Delaney en Bonnie se ‘Never Ending Song of Live kom tussen-in en toe ek weer hoor, speel André Rieu se orkes “Auld Lang Syne’ en ek verlang na my familie en wonder wat doen hulle op dié lente Sondagmiddag in Suid-Afrika. Terwyl ek nog wonder, maak Neil Diamond ‘n ‘Beautiful Noise’ en op die nota van ‘Hava Nagila’ moet ek eers die vliegtuigvenstertjie ‘n bietjie toetrek, want die sonnetjie skyn nogal skerp so hoop bo in die lug waar dit van die Alpe af reflekteer. My vinger kies so half outomaties Josh Grobin se ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire’, want ‘n mens voel mos maar altyd ‘n bietjie nader aan die hemel so hoog bo in die lug.

In die gangsitplek sit Michael ingeprop en lees sy nuwe boek en langs my in die middel, sit-lê Deon op sy voorkop teen die sitplek voor hom en probeer slaap. Ek vertrou maar vandag op sy selfoon, sou daar ‘n ‘vir ingeval’ anderkant die landing wees. Vir nou help my foon se battery eers vir Josh om hoog te vlieg bo die wolke bokant Europa.

© 2016 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt, with my husband, young adult son, the building’s ginger cat, her friend and two kittens (so far) – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function normally .

Egypt Chronicles – Cruising the Nile

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The route – from Luxor to Aswan

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The Nile Adventurer

In April we went on a Nile Cruise. The cruise entails flying to Luxor from where the actual sailing starts. Before cruising though, all the well-known tourist attractions in and around Luxor is being visited. All these are temples, except for the Luxor Museum harbouring artefacts from temples. Not really my cup of tea. On the first day we had quite a full program.

Day 1

After we arrived in Luxor we started with a visit to the Luxor Museum, which paved the way for the rest of the sites, because it was filled with statues and artefacts from temples and archaeological finds. There were even two mummies in the museum. There were a few similar pieces which are also featured in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. One such a piece is the face of a pharaoh who had done away with all the Egyptian gods and declared that there was only one God – the Creator and the only One that should be worshipped. Other similar pieces are horse carts and statues of historical figures.

Our guide on this Nile Cruise tour was an Egyptologist who is very passionate about his job. He is also very patriotic, has strong political views that he is not afraid of voicing and according to him everything and all were invented in Egypt. I realised soon that we would be treated to quite a lot of information we would not always appreciate. 🙂

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As a Bible believer I had a tough time staying focused on what we were being told, because the stories about the pharaohs and the gods and the religions were a bit much and one always tend to weigh others’ truths against your own Truth. Anyway, this is an account then of our Nile cruise for any of you who are interested in coming to visit Egypt and wanting to go on a cruise. If you find personal travel pieces boring and just want to know if it worth the while, here is the short answer: Yes, come and visit Egypt and go on a Nile cruise.

We booked into our cabins on the boat after the museum visit and had time to settle in a bit. Our group occupied two ‘ships’. The bigger bulk stayed on the larger of the two boats, The Mövenpick Sun Boat, and we booked into the smaller one, called The Nile Adventurer. The latter is a quaint little boat with nice interior, a pleasant atmosphere and friendly and efficient staff. The food is excellent and way too much on a way-too-regular basis.

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Just before sunset on Monday, we left by bus to visit the first temple. There we saw the sun set over Luxor which was a beautiful spectacle. From there we went to see a sound and light show at the Karnak Temple, where we were met by the governor of Luxor. Here listened to an overly dramatic audio narration – which sounded as if was made in the 1930’s – of the history of the gods, starting with someone calling himself the ‘god of the first day’. My attention wondered a bit, but I practiced taking photos in the dark with my newish camera, while another ancient proud himself that he married four of his own daughters and bragged about the amount of children he had with them. Later we moved to a different location nearby in an amphitheatre-like pavilion and were treated to another half to three quarters of an hour’s sound and light narration.

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Day 2

On the second, hot morning of the cruise we visited the Valley of the Kings, the Habu Temple, where in 1997 seventy plus tourists were killed by terrorists, the Hatshepsut Temple and the Collossi of Memnon. All the hieroglyphs and tombs etc. were starting to look the same to me by this time. One must admire the tenacity with which the ancient Egyptians recorded their doings, especially because they did it in stone. Some of the artifacts here are really well preserved. And, now I can say that I have seen the actual mummified body of Tutankamen, the boy king. Mmm.

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After the very hot morning, we were welcomed back on the boat with nice warm cloths to clean our sweaty faces and fresh lemon and mint drinks to refresh us. We had a late lunch and we finally started sailing to Esna.

Cruising was my favourite part of the week. We sailed all along the Nile, passing farmed lands and very small villages. Time had stood still alongside the Nile. They are still attending to their crops the way they did a few thousand years ago. On the one hand, I thought, man, these people have so much to learn and they could benefit so much by new farming methods, machinery and expertise help. And on the other hand, I envied them for the absolute quietness, simplicity and peace in which they live.

Maybe this was how life should be. Living from the land, from the hand to the mouth, just sustaining yourself and those living with you. It is mind blowing to find that in a country which had become modernised up to a point, you can still find this way of living. And what blows my mind even further is that the land alongside the Nile still belongs to these people, living their modest lives. It is not yet monopolised by big food corporations or holiday consortiums. Weird. And wonderful. If we are here for the next three years, we will go on the cruise again and again, because this passing by of peaceful Nile existence, and not the glamourous temple visits, was what I enjoyed most.

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Day 3

We sailed to Edfu in the early morning and got off the boat to visit the Edfu Temple. This was probably the most fun visit of the cruise, because instead of getting into an air-conditioned bus, we got on horse carts and were driven through the busy town’s streets to the site. At least now we can say that we have been in a horse cart traffic jam too. I never thought I would be able to add that to my life’s CV. It was very hot here again, and we moved from shade to shade and had our first and only ice cream afterwards. We didn’t enjoy the harassment of the stall owners that much of course, but it’s compulsory of any Egyptian experience.

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We were back on the boat for lunch again and cruised to Kom Ombo, a lively town with colourful shops lining the docking space. Here we visited the Kom Ombo temple at night with its small museum housing quite a collection of stuffed crocodiles.

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After the visit to the temple it was galabeyya (Egyptian dress-like attire) party night on both boats. It was a lot of fun with a Bulgarian lady friend with camel riding trousers on dancing the night away and a South Korean friend perfecting the Gangham Style. We macarena-ed with our American friends and the boat staff joined in and showed us a few Nubian dance tricks. Michael looked like an oil baron and Deon and I looked cool in our ‘dresses’ too, I think.

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Day 4

Ah, Aswan. We cruised to Aswan and had a full day full of pleasant surprises in this surprise of a town. I know, I’m surprised myself that I use the word so many times. 🙂

We visited the Philae Temple, to where you have to go by bus first and then by boat. The temple is situated in a beautiful area filled with water and rocks and plants, unlike any other terrain we have seen so far in Egypt. It almost feels as being in another country. It was still hot, so we did some shade hopping again.

We went back to town by bus and then caught falloukas – these have engines – to the botanical garden on an island in the Nile. The garden was planted by Lord Kitchener, when he was in Egypt. At least he did some good in other areas of the world, because he wasn’t a popular man in South Africa back then. (If you don’t know why, go and do some research about the Anglo-Boer War between the British and South Africa.) Plants and trees from all over the world were imported to be planted there. The gardens are being looked after and is a peaceful haven in the desert. On the other side of the garden is a huge sand dune or a small mountain full of sand – a beautiful piece of earth.

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Our next stop was a Nubian village. The Nubians are an ethnic group who originated in modern-day Sudan. They are a little darker of skin than the rest of the Egyptians, are very friendly and like to paint their houses in colours – mostly shades of blue, which is absolutely beautiful. We visited a home where we met the family’s pet crocodile kept in their sink and drank some good mint tea. Real nice green mint tea, like the Moroccans make it.

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We rested a bit on the boat after which we had an appointment for high tea at the old Sofitel Cataract Hotel, where the likes of Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, Jimmy Carter, Princess Diana, Tsar Nicholas II and Queen Noor hung out regularly. It is said that Ms Christie wrote part/s of her novel ‘Death on the Nile’ there. So, for me this was a real treat. The wind started blowing fiercely, which provided a nice breeze in the early evening and we had our ‘tea’ on the lawn in front of the hotel. The view is spectacular with the Nile ‘forking’ here underneath it and the one leg flowing pass the one side of the hotel. At a little table outside on the terrace I could swore that I saw Ernest Hemmingway’s son creating a best seller. (I even have a photo to ‘prove’ it!) The rooms are beautiful and old Englishy and just sooo romantic. I could almost see Agatha sitting in her room behind her desk, putting words into Hercule Poirot’s mouth on her old type writer. I took way to many photos of the hotel’s interior. I’m ashamed to say that I will treasure this visit more than the sight of the mummified body of Tutankamen. But, hey, I must be forgiven, because I’m a writer…

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Back at the boat we were welcomed by a band and dancers and being entertained on the dock for about half an hour before heading for dinner and a bottle of wine on the deck – the most Deon and I had ever paid for a pretty ordinary bottle in our entire lives…

Day 5

We were nearing the end of our cruise. We left the boat after breakfast and gone to the Aswan Dam by bus. We got out and ‘inspected’ the dam wall in the still strong blowing wind. From there we went to Abu Simbel – probably Egypt’s most written about temple. Most people drive there from Aswan, which can take up to four hours (just to get there and then you still have to drive back) and can be rather uncomfortable in the heat. Fortunately, we flew and what a sight it was, flying over Lake Nasser for the whole way! It is such a big body of water and it is beautiful to see the water veins flowing into each other from high above. When we landed the water still stretched to the horizon in the direction of the Sudanese border.

The visit to Abu Simbel was pleasant, because even though the sun was warm, there the breeze blew the heat away. After the visit we went back to the airport and flew home to Cairo where we were greeted by very uncharacteristic icy weather in the middle of April!

It was a most enjoyable trip, which for us comes up annually while we are staying here. I can’t wait to go again. Hopefully, we will be spared and the security situation will stay good and we can repeat it next year.

Travel Tip: Abercrombie & Kent is a wonderfully, professional and competent international travel company to use with when planning a Nile cruise.

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© 2015 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I temporarily share my living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat, a stuffed toy dog, named Ike – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters, to functioning normally.

Thoughts on Experiencing Similarities and Differences in Countries and/or Cities you Visit for Only a Few Days at a Time

(I always wanted to write something with a long title like this. My favourite movie title is The Englishmen who went up a Hill and came down a Mountain.)

Countries under Discussion

France (a bit of the South and Paris, ten days)

England (only London, four days)

Netherlands (only Amsterdam, three days)

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One can hardly be an expert after visiting a country or even only a city for three or four or ten days – and for the first time! But we can make deductions, relate experiences and emotions and share observations after visiting places – even if it is after only such a short time. After all – that is why we do the lovely, beautiful, excruciating thing called travelling. So add if you want to, differ if it entertains you, but please don’t digitally crucify me for my inadequate, subjective views and comments on three great places my feet had the pleasure to touch.

We as a little family visited a few destinations in Europe at the end of last year through the beginning of this one. My husband is a seasoned traveller and had visited many countries beyond our continent’s borders, but for our son and I, it was the first trip beyond Africa and the Middle East. we looked forward to it for a long time and we weren’t disappointed. It must actually be ‘normal’ for South Africans like us to visit Europe at least once in a lifetime, because that is where our origins are. But travelling is a privilege and most of the time we can’t just jump on a plane and go wherever we dream to go. For us, the opportunity came up and we grabbed it with all fours.

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France

After hoping and dreaming, we finally made the trip to visit to a friend of mine, residing in the south of France for the last five years. My friend, Mirella, her husband, Christian, and two sons, Daniël and Xavier lives in Sainte Colome, near Arudi, near Pau, near Toulouse in the south western part of Aquitaine province of the country, very close to the border with Spain. This border is lined with the beautiful Pyrenees Mountains and counts as some of the finest of God’s creation.

Our initial introduction with the French people wasn’t that heartening. Speak English at the train station in Toulouse and you are rudely ignored. Fortunately, angels roam the earth and an English speaking one was waiting for us at the ticket machine to help us obtain three tickets to Pau. Once in the countryside, people showed us the nicer side of being French. We breathed the good, clean Pyrenees air for seven wonderful days, we watched the world around us in awe, threw a snowball for the first time ever (!) and admired people’s skills in the soft, white, cold wonderland.

Paris was everything I hoped it would be and more. We visited all the famous tourist sites, enjoyed the food and watched the Parisians stroll up and down the Champs Elysees dressed as if it is a catwalk. We were there for only three days, but somehow we ended up going to the Eiffel Tower every single day! We left for London on the evening before the Charlie Hebdo incident. I don’t know if we will ever have the opportunity to visit Paris or the French countryside ever again, but I know that there is a smile reserved in my heart for my memories of France. I can’t help to wonder what Paris will be like in the summer though?

Things we Observed and Experienced while Visiting France for Ten Days

  • It is true. The French don’t like hearing English. We tested it. Every time my husband started an enquiry in his friendliest English, he was impolitely disregarded. I then stepped in, beginning in Afrikaans, our native language, and then flowed over into my version of ‘French’ – English camouflaged in a terrible French accent. It is quite easy to ‘bend’ English words so that they sound We were successful in all our missions this way – from asking directions, to exchanging pleasantries to buying cough medicine!
  • The French seems educated. (They definitely sound educated speaking such a beautiful language!) Everyone They sit on benches and read. They read on the bus, the boat, the train. Men read, women read, children read and grandmothers read to children who can’t read yet. It is just lovely to watch this passionate affair the French people has with books!
  • It also seems that all people living in France can speak French. (It might sound obvious, but it is not necessarily a given that people naturally speak the language of the country they live in – see my observations about London later on.)
  • Being South African and coming from a country where the crime rate is unacceptably high, one of my first observations of the French countryside was the absence of fear. In the village where my friend lives, they don’t even lock their doors (as some of those hundred-plus-year-old houses don’t have keys anymore!) There is a sense of safety and also an absence of aggression – something I had recognised and acknowledged within myself for the first time. I am still shocked to appreciate how living in a society with no respect for life changes you and make you angry all the time. And I am deeply saddened by it, because it had become the psyche of ‘my people’ back home. It is something I have to ponder on and to do something about.
  • I’ve touched the point above already that the French knows how to dress. They really dress elegantly and if you are clothed in the most common South African brand winter clothing, you stand out a little bit. Luckily it didn’t rain much, so we wore our ‘classier’ stuff the two remaining days. But with my weathered hiking boots I still looked very Boer-like in the presence of all those designer heels. Anyway, my feet were happy. And so was I.
  • In spite of them not liking English, the French are friendlier than one thinks and they are pretty likable people in the end.

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London

All I wanted was a beer in a real pub and sitting on the Underground, being in shops and walking in the streets of London and listening to proper English accents, like our friend Simon’s. Boy, was I disappointed! Only twice in the four days did I hear that. The rest of the time our ears were entertained by almost every language under the sun – Arabic, Italian, Russian, other Eastern European sounding languages, Greek, French etc. In shops, we were served by foreigners. The Underground was packed with people from elsewhere. London is a little world in its own.

In spite of not hearing much proper English, we really enjoyed our time in London. We walked, saw touristy places, we went to see Phantom of the Opera at West End, we went to the movies and checked out James Bond stuff in the British Film Museum. It rained and it didn’t and it rained and it didn’t. And we had that pint in a real pub – the Sherlock Holmes Pub, nogal!

I liked visiting London and won’t cry if I have to visit it again. I do still have a dream to go watch a tennis match at Wimbledon. And I want to still see the English and the Scottish and the Welch and the Irish countryside…

Things we Observed and Experienced while Visiting London for Four Days

  • There is no good coffee.
  • There is no good coffee.
  • There is no good coffee.
  • Did I mention that the coffee there isn’t any good?
  • London appears very orderly. Properly English. Things work. That’s nice. I liked that. Once upon a time, things worked well in South Africa too. We learned from the Germans and the Dutch and the French and the British. But somehow we’ve lost our orderliness. And a lot of other necessities too.
  • People flock to England to get an education. Some for real. Some under false pretences and get stopped at the airport – something we witnessed.
  • On that point, London had become a place of refuge for many people from many different countries. It brings along its own challenges for the authorities, because of socio-economic issues and increasing extremism, but for most people it had become a place where they can go to be safe and to make a new life. It might be a hard life and difficult to get ahead, but nevertheless, it is a place to where they can go to get saved from where they come from.
  • And also on that point. One gets a feeling of disconnectedness amongst the masses. Most people appear alone and distant and lonesome. Maybe it is because they had to disconnect from their roots and they just didn’t reconnect again. I suppose it is not out of the ordinary. Living in a foreign land does that to a person.

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The Netherlands

Amsterdam was a breath of fresh air. Okay, with a hint of marijuana near the train station. We spend a whole day walking along the canals with our friend, Rudi, who lives there. We ate biltong at an Aussie restaurant/bar that is nice enough to sell South African delicacies for the homesick Springbok supporters who watch rugby matches there. It was bloody cold.

It must be impossible to know for real, but statistics shows that there are more than 600 000 bicycles in Amsterdam. They have their own parking lots – like those for cars. Everyone is riding a bike – young and old. And sometimes the young with a mom or a dad. It is an overwhelming phenomenon, the bikes of Amsterdam. We visited the places everyone visited, rode on a boat in the canals and we walked and walked and walked. And it was bloody cold.

I loved Amsterdam. It was fun, relaxed and relaxing and we just had a great time. And we would love to see the rest of the Netherlands. Maybe in springtime…

Things we Observed and Experienced while Visiting Amsterdam for Three Days

  • The Hollanders are super friendly. Maybe they are always a little bit high with all the fumes hanging around (wink-wink) or maybe that’s just the way they are.
  • They are helpful people. Apart from their friendliness, they have this wonderful way in which they serve you. Really caringly serve you.
  • There also is an absence of fear.
  • Order and education is a visible priority. It’s Europe.
  • In Amsterdam everyone speaks Dutch. The population looks a bit like that of London with white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern etc., working everywhere, but the difference here is that every white, black, Middle Eastern or Asian mouth speaks Dutch! It is so weird, but also so wonderful! And we can understand them a little bit. If they speak slowly.
  • As in the case of London, Amsterdam is also a sanctuary for people from all over the world. Their tolerance throughout history made people flock to the city and it harboured many people in need of shelter in the past and still in the present.

These were just a few comments. I’m still working on my observations about living in Egypt. Maybe I will only write about that at the end of our time here. That is after all a whole different ballgame.

© 2015 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I temporarily share my living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat, a stuffed toy dog, named Ike – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters, to functioning normally.

The Exhausting Thing Called Travelling

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There are so many quotes and writings about the almost ‘magical’ thing called travelling.  Much is said about the wonderful things you see and hear and how it opens your eyes and your mind and broadens your horizons and gives you insights into how the world works that you would otherwise not have had. So much so that when you dream of visiting France for example, you unquestionably expect to hear beautiful French theme music starting to play in the background the moment you set foot on French soil.

Most of the things one hears and reads about travelling are certainly true. It makes a difference about how you look at and think about the world. It does broaden you horizon. And it gives you insights you would probably otherwise not have required. The reality about travelling though is that there is reality. Surely, sometimes you hear French music play in the background (when you sit in a restaurant) and you may have a holiday romance with an Italian heartbreaker or you might travel without any trouble, lost luggage or stomach bugs and you will meet people who will stay friends with you until the end of time. But most of the time, travelling can be very, very hard. So, if you haven’t travelled much yet, here is a shortish version of how a typical day of a travelling transpires.

Even if you knew the day would come for months in advance and planned accordingly, you will still have a hundred and three things to do on the day before you leave. Somehow visas can be the main devil in the traveller’s Garden of Eden and you sometimes have to wait until the very end for the British Embassy to open again after an unexpected closure in Cairo to get your UK visa. Or it can be the Colombians or Algerians or Mauritian authorities causing you problems. The fact is – visas are the traveller’s number one enemy – and friend, because without them, you’re going nowhere.

On a normal day of travelling you will eventually leave for the airport by car, taxi, bus, train or whatever, armed with you passport, your ticket – or the electronic confirmation of a ticket, money, your luggage and those precious visas safely stamped or pasted into your passport pages. You will arrive and queue to book in electronically at a machine or otherwise at a counter, depending on the airport you fly from. While you stand in the queue, you will pray that your bag is within the weight limit. You will ban the question out of you mind of how you are going to manage not to go overweight after ten days or three weeks of buying cute, but in a year’s time totally forgotten memorabilia. You will be thankful when the bag goes through with no problem and you are awarded with your boarding pass.

Then you get out of the line, say the goodbyes to those who brought you, if you didn’t come on your own, and you enter the door leading to the world! But first, you will have to queue for passport control. After the customs officer stamped you out of the country, you are as free as a bird in that wonderful no man’s land called ‘Duty Free’… We normally like to be there long before we have to board, just to get the emotions of the goodbyes behind us and have a coffee or a beer while breathing the busy day out of our bodies and starting to focus on our tip ahead. This is where you realise for the first time that you are on your way.

Your next queue is when you wait to go through the security check to your boarding gate. You remove your camera, jacket/s, shoes and belt, take your wallet and cell phone out of you pockets, remove your laptop, tablet/iPad and your other cameras from your hand luggage, put it in a tray with your passports and walk through the scanner on your still-clean socks, hoping there is nothing left on you that will make it bleep. If you’re lucky enough to go through without a bleep, a person of your own gender awaits you with a hand scanner and two gloved hands. In Europe, this search stops just short of a gynaecology examination. Literally. Then all your scanned stuff and those of the people behind you causes a traffic jam on the x-ray machine, while you try to grab your camera, belt, shoes and jacket’s all at once and try to get dressed while going through the checklist in your head trying not to forget anything:

  • Passport
  • Camera
  • Jacket/s
  • Shoes
  • Belt
  • Other camera
  • Cell phone
  • Tablet/iPad
  • Wallet

You make sure to look back to see if you left anything and check the person behind you to see if he may have taken something of yours. When you are certain of this, you are perspiring a little bit and ready to board your flight.

Note: Sometimes this step occurs after leaving passport control and before you enter Duty Free. It depends on the airport. After this you are happy that it is over, yet you know that this is going to repeat itself over and over during the course of your trip in every airport you visit – when going in and when going out.

Another note: If travelling in or out of Egypt add double the amount of passport checks mentioned above, add two more and multiply the sum by three.

Your next wait is in the room at the gate before boarding. When you finally hear the boarding call, you get up excitedly, because you know, that the journey is finally to begin. You queue in the boarding line, get you passport checked again and your boarding pass scanned. Then you follow the line to the airplane. Finally.

Depending on how far you have to travel, you will be caged into a small space (except if you fly business class of course) where you will try to watch a movie, try to sleep, don’t like all the food the airline serve you (except if it is KLM, then you would want to try the tray too) and probably be stuck behind or next to an unmannered co-passenger or one who’s breath really pongs. This is the less enjoyable part of travelling, especially if you travel five hours and longer.

On the other side, you will have this whole process at the airport again, just in in reverse. Then you have to find transport to your place of accommodation, travel there, queue to book in, move in, unpack or not, get cleaned, connect to Wi-Fi, contact home to let them know that you are safe and try to get a good night’s sleep.

If you travel for ten days to three weeks, the pace can get to you, because you will wake up every day, get cleaned, go for breakfast and travel by car, bus, train, tram, boat, taxi, motorcycle, bicycle, plane, underground (also train) to your next destination. You will queue, you will buy tickets on busses, in museums and on boats. You will always be looking for coffee or beer and wonder where the next toilet will be. You will run not to miss your next bus ride, train or plane, and you will hope you and your luggage arrive at the same place. Which sometimes don’t happen and then you have to spend a night in your day-old undies and a t-shirt from Heathrow’s ‘overnight’ pack. You will queue to see the small, insignificant, but well-marketed painting called the ‘Mona Lisa’ (in English) and take selfies with known landmarks in the background.

You will ask strangers to take a pic of your family, so that you are in some of the pictures too. You will search the map and the Internet for directions and you will learn how a country’s public transport system works within hours after arrival. You will walk or ride from site to site, drinking coffee or beer or wine in between with ‘n light lunch and take more pictures, because you never know if you will ever see it again.

 Mona Lisa Quote

It’s not that these places are so important to you personally or that they speak to your heart, but that you have seen it with your own eyes. There is something in seeing well-known places and things with your own eyes. Even if you feel too uneducated to appreciate every old painting in the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum – or know who the painters were. It is a weird kind of privilege to visit places and share the soil where so many good and bad things happened in the past and to know that somehow your life had cross the paths of those who lived there so long ago.

In the evening you put your photos on Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp and chat with your family and friends and go to bed too late, because you don’t want to waste a moment and you want to try and put what you have seen and experienced in perspective. The next morning you wake up and the routine repeat itself – but in spite of the repetition, one day is never the same as the previous. So, you get up, brush your teeth, go to breakfast, start travelling, drink coffee, go to the toilet while you are in a restaurant, travel to a site, take too many pictures, walk, ride bus, ride boat, walk more, eat lunch you can’t really afford, drink beer, go to the restaurant toilet, walk to the next site, take more pics, ride bus to the next, take even more pictures, look for a place to get food, have more beer or wine and go to the toilet, ride bus or underground or walk to your place or accommodation, bath, download photos, upload photos, chat to family and friends, go to sleep too late.

And you repeat this until the tour is over. There is no rest, because what South African can afford to go to London for three days and lay on a hotel bed for a day’s rest at times 18 of your currency for everything you do. No, there will be no rest. You will pack in, no matter how tired or sick you are. You will go on. You will get every cheap South African cent’s worth out of your too-expensive trip!

Sometimes while travelling it feels as if you are not taking it all in. You think that you just travel and look and see and don’t think. But when you get home, you realise how much you have thought about. You learned that you never stopped thinking. Your thoughts were transformed somehow by experiences you didn’t realise your brain had recorded. You are a changed/changing person. You realise how much you have learned and how little you really know. Even now. No, especially now that you know how much there still is to learn. And you realise all over again that all of life is a journey. That this little piece of your life, called a holiday, is part of that journey to make your life expand. And you appreciate that you may never, ever see those places you have just visited again. And you are also confronted with the very real possibility that you may never travel to all the places you still dream about seeing. That’s a reality of life.

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You also find that being home, is the biggest part of the journey. And you realise that it is a privilege to have a place to come home to. Even if we have never travelled, or is just a couch traveller or if we don’t want to travel, we are on the trip of our life, because being alive and living life is the journey.

So, are the endless, tiresome movements from one place to another just to see it with your own eyes really worth it? It is. Because you learn a lot about the world, but you learn even more about yourself.

What a curious phenomenon this thing called ‘travelling’ is.

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© 2015 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I temporarily share my living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to live as a normal functioning human being.

 

 

 

Travelling with Children

Our son, Michael (5) and his friend, Maryam (6) in 2001. In the background - them in 2012

Our son, Michael (5) and his friend, Maryam (6) in Morocco in 2001. In the background – them in December 2012

 

On our first trip to Israel we met a man and his wife when visiting the Nazareth village. They complimented us for travelling as a family. We encouraged them to do the same, but they protested that their family was too big. On our second trip to the Holy Land though, we bumped into them in the Old city of Jerusalem – with their six children!

Since we visited Israel on six occasions – with our son! We were travelling with other friends, who also travel with their children. On our first trip together, their son was only eighteen months old. On the next trip he was three years old and had an eight month-old baby brother. We also travelled with them when their third son was only three months old! On every trip childless couples as well as single people travelled with us travelled and the children brought no extra stress on us. As a matter of fact, we travelled with less worries, because our children were safely with us.The first time my husband and I travelled to another country together, we did it without our then three year-old son, Michael. We went with another couple, whose children, like ours, stayed with their grandparents for the week. We missed our children a lot and we were always on the lookout for telephone booths in every Moroccan town we drove through. Although we knew that Michael was in safe hands, we still worried about him.

While driving one day, both we and the other couple decided not to travel again without our children in future. Back home our son missed us too and he had his own way of letting us know it. He addressed us on our names for weeks, before we decided to ignore him when doing that. Within days we were ‘Pappa’ and ‘Mamma’ again. We knew that our decision not to travel without him in future was the right one.

Two years later we were back in Morocco with Michael and our friends with their three children. We were travelling in a group of 62 South Africans. We were the only two families travelling with children and enjoyed every minute.Travelling is expensive and the costs might be one of the main reasons why couples tend to leave their children at home when taking a trip to another country. We have a one-income household. I am a stay-at-home mum and my husband is serving in the defence force. We really don’t have money to squander, but somehow we manage to fulfil our dream to travel. When we set out on planning a new adventure, we normally start from scratch. We don’t have extra savings to fall back on. We purely pray and believe it will happen. We believe that is how our Creator meant it to be and that He rewards us time and again for our decision to travel as a family.

Our son is sixteen now and has become quite a globetrotter. He has learned in experience what some other children have to learn from books. He is working in the garden, washing the car and doing other odd jobs to help fund his next plane ticket. Our next trip to the Middle East is already in its early planning stages. The preparation is as much fun as the trip itself. We are reading guide books and planning visits to must-see places, while hoping on and believing that a few miracles along the road will get us there.

Travelling as a family doesn’t have to be just a dream. With a bit of faith and lots of courage it is possible to live the dream. We regularly encourage other families to do the same, as it is enriching for both parents and children. If that pastor and his wife could do it with their six children, any family can at least try it at least once!

Here is a list of helpful tips for families to travel together and enjoy it.

Tips for planning a safe and joyful family trip

  • Reinforcing Immunity. Enjoy the locally-produced yogurt upon arrival in the country being visited. The live cultures of the product will help prevent stomach ailments. Also drink bottled water only, even when brushing teeth.
  • Routine. Maintaining a daily routine helps children becoming less tired and irritated in an unknown environment. Ensure that they get enough sleep and plan daily tours and programs accordingly.
  • Medicine. Take enough prescription drugs for the duration of the trip, as it is sometimes difficult to obtain the same products overseas. If your child is using medication for attention-deficit disorders or other related challenges, don’t stop or reduce it, except on doctor’s recommendation, as this will put unnecessary pressure on everyone. Divide the medicine into smaller portions and keep it in different places, to prevent loss and damage of the medicine. Take copies of prescriptions with and keep over-the-counter medicine in their original packaging.
  • Schoolwork. When travelling with school-going children, make arrangements for tests missed during the time away from school. Try to make up for the work missed before and after the trip. If you are taking day flights, take some work with to fill the long hours on the plane.
  • Toys. Let every child take a backpack filled with his favourite games, toys, and books. It will keep them calm and secure to have familiar things with them. Allow them time to play while the adults rest or read. See that they don’t take toy guns, scissors, wires, knives or other restricted items on the plane.
  • Clothes. While adults can cut back, children need more clothes because they mess more. Make sure that they have enough clothes for all weather conditions. A light fleece blanket is handy when flying, at airports, on buses and in hotels.
  • Security. Before leaving home, set up the ground rules for the travels abroad, such as rules on wandering off, talking to strangers and going into public toilets alone. Teach them safety measures if travelling to countries where security threats exist. Make sure that they keep their hand luggage with them at all times and let them carry some form of identity.
  • Let them explore. Explore with them and by using a travel guide, teach them about the country’s people, culture and history. Travelling teaches children things that they do not learn from school textbooks, like empathy towards others and it also broadens their outlook on life.
  • Travelling in the country. Try to travel when it is not too warm. Take precautions against motion sickness, provide enough fluids and keep some fruit and nuts available as snacks. Encourage young children to sleep while travelling and older children to enjoy the changing scenery.
  • Money. Travel costs are probably the most common reason why couples do not travel with their children. Decide as a family to use every opportunity to save. Cut back on renting DVD’s or eating out, get a food stall at a local flea market, start a car washing service in the street you live in or let the boys mow the neighbour’s lawn for pocket money. Teach the children simultaneously to give away a percentage of their earnings to someone in need. Teenagers can contribute to their air tickets by saving some of their monthly allowance, while smaller children can save for their own spending money. Depending on your situation, allow every child to buy something special to remind them of the trip and encourage them to buy small souvenirs for grandparents, teachers or friends. Their contribution will teach them important values and empower them as ‘world travellers’.
  • Photos and journals. Encourage school-going children to keep a travel journal and/or take their own photographs of the trip. This way they will capture things that are important to them and will feel confident to share moments from their point of view.
  • Strengthening family relations. The family as a whole benefits from the experience, as parents are more relaxed having their children at their side and children feel more loved when travelling with their parents. In a world where the family is becoming an extinct phenomenon, travelling together might just be one way of keeping the unit together.

Things to pack in your child’s backpack

  • His Bible or a Bible story book
  • A favourite story book
  • A few of his favourite cars/action figures or her favourite doll/s
  • A board game and/or playing cards
  • A small fleece blanket

 

Must-take items in your first-aid kit

(Remember to keep it in original packaging)

  • Band-aids
  • Cough syrup
  • Paediatric syrup for fever
  • Paediatric syrup for pain
  • Thermometer
  • Paediatric lozenges for sore throat
  • Prescribed medicine – if applicable, together with an original prescription

© 2012 Riëtte de Kock

I am trying hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellent wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful entrepreneur and freelance writer all at the same time! I share a living space in Pretoria, South Africa with my husband, son, mother, four dogs and sometimes the neighbours’ cats – and my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters.

Visit my website at www.thewritingclub.co.za and buy my children’s ebook, Yeovangya, on Amazon Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Yeovangya-ebook/dp/B008CP2RQ0

My Afrikaans blog is available on my website – or just click on this link: http://www.thewritingclub.co.za/writingclub/index.php?option=com_lyftenbloggie&view=lyftenbloggie&category=bloggies&Itemid=66