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Dreams Come True

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Travelling in faraway lands and particularly India had always been a big dream.

However when I became a mum I just believed that that was the end of my dream. It then seemed an experience out of my reach. How could I go to India being a single parent? How could I manage all on my own with a young child in a foreign country?

About a year before my trip (my son was two and a half then) I met another mum who had travelled around Eastern Europe with her daughter. She inspired me, I admired her and thought to myself, if she can do it so can I!

A few months later, after gathering enough strength and courage and having faced a lot of my fears, I made the decision to go and booked two five-month tickets to India! I couldn’t believe we were going. It was so exciting and so scary as the same time. We left in November 2001 and travelled mostly in the West of India.

We arrived in Bombay, spent the first three weeks in Goa, a good place to acclimatise to the heat and the country. It was paradise! Sun, sand, and little beach huts in the coconut trees. My son loved it.

The next stop was a place called Hampi, an amazing old Hindu city. The coast and the sea called us back for Christmas on the beach in a place called Gokarna where we stayed for a whole month. It was beautiful and so relaxing. The next two months were spent in Kerala (Southwest of India) where we travelled quite a bit on some mad train and bus journeys! Then we slowly went back up, all the way to Rhajistan (Northwest) and spent the last three weeks there.

India was fantastic, another reality, another world which has fascinated me, shocked me, challenged me, charmed me … and transformed me.

My son seemed to adapt fairly quickly, even faster than me, he really came out of himself and gained a lot of confidence. He made a lot of friends (adults and children, Indians and Westerners) and the Indian people loved him, he was treated like a little Prince! And being a mum I felt completely respected as a woman, probably more than if I had been travelling on my own.

There was so much to take in!

India is intense but magical at the same time, I found it a safe place to travel with children and we met many travelling families along the way. Today, I look back and sometimes I still can’t believe we made it. What an amazing trip, so many memories brought back with us: a winter in the sun, but most of all an unforgettable experience for both of us. I recommend it to anyone. Definitely a life-changing experience!

Being a photographer, I had another dream of sharing my journey and my experience through my photos. I took a lot of photos (India is such a photogenic country!) and I did an exhibition on my return, which went really well. Let’s say that deep down I hope I can inspire others to live their dreams, like I was inspired too. So don’t forget: DREAMS DO COME TRUE.

 

Havana Wonderful Time

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During the drive from Juan Roberto Gomez airport, I felt almost voyeuristic ­peering out of the window of my air-conditioned shuttle bus at the locals in their various modes of transportation as we travelled around the Veradero peninsula. Many travelled on bicycles or late-model American cars. The only thing older than the cars appeared to be the buildings for which time had seemingly stood still.

To truly discover Cuba, however, I knew that I needed to leave the resort. The two-hour drive to Havana from my hotel, the Villa Cuba, was an experience in itself. Though many of the buildings were run-down in neighbouring communities, like Mantanzas, the laundry that hung from the windows was sparkling white.

Outside the cigar museum, one man, claiming he was a journalist, told us that we Canadians are very fortunate to have our freedom. How could anyone argue with him – we are free and fortunate. Ironically, this chance encounter took place across from a former Presidential palace, and the Granma memorial. Granma was the boat that carried 82 fighters to Cuba in 1956, including Fidel Castro, and the beloved former Argentinean Che Guevara.

Across from the spectacular Capitol building is Central Park. This is known as a “hot corner” in Havana where men argue vehemently about Cuba’s national pastime – baseball.

A tour of any one of Havana’s 65 cigar factories can be quite enlightening. Upon being in the sweltering heat of a multi-level building, I don’t know how I can justifiably complain about the lack of air-conditioning in my office ever again. The speed, with which the dozens of hand rollers perform their task in order to each meet the 120 cigar quota per day, is phenomenal. Quality is controlled at a number of levels, which explains why Cuba is home to the world’s finest cigars.

Revolution Square is home to a marble statue of Jose Marti, a National hero. For a fee, one can board the elevator to the top of the square’s tower to look out at Havana. Events at this square include concerts, national holidays, and parades. More evidence of Cuba’s love for Che exists in the form of a two-dimensional image of his face adorning a building across from the Marti statue.

At Plaza de La Catedral (Cathedral Square), you can bargain for souvenirs at the market, it is here you’ll find La Bodeguita del Medio, one of Ernest Hemmingway’s stomping grounds, and home to what is said to be the finest Mojito (the national drink of Cuba.)

Meander through the narrow cobbled streets, admire magnificent architecture and see Cuba through the lives of the locals. You may happen across spontaneous dancing. It is inarguable that there is no forum of music or dance more beautiful or sensuous than Latin.

Monaco on My Mind

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When my friend invited me to stay with her, while she was in Monaco for a business trip, I jumped at the chance. Casinos, celebrities, luxury and glamour all ran through my mind as I searched for the cheapest way to get there.

Arriving

Monaco doesn’t have an airport – it has a heliport though, a hint to how small this country really is. The nearest airport to Monaco is Nice – the second biggest airport in France – one of the many useful facts I learnt about the region.

I arrived on a lovely October afternoon and inquired about the easiest way to get to Monaco from the airport, I learnt it was by coach, a service that runs every hour and takes about 50 minutes costing 15 Euros. (under 25s get a discount – 11 Euros). The coach dropped me off at the Columbus Hotel in Fontvielle, situated near the heliport and the Princess Grace Rose Garden.

Getting acquainted

As another friend was also joining us later that day, I decided to start my tour of Monaco by taking the train to meet her at the airport. There is only one train station in the world’s second smallest country, and you can get there via carefully situated subway tunnels.

My friends and I spent our first day in Monaco wandering around Fontvielle, the royal palace grounds and La Condamine (a lovely little shopping/café district). Fontvielle is a port area where many high fliers moor their huge yachts and private boats – it’s a wonderful sight. There are a few great restaurants along the port that offer Italian and French cuisine as well as an English pub. Every Saturday there’s a flea market at the port – with some glorious little treasures at quite reasonable prices.

Small, yet so much to see and do

You can get some wonderful views of the entire country from the Jardin de St Martin. The weather in Monaco was idyllic; it was 26 degrees – in October! Having walked through the old town and taken more pictures than I could count, we decided to walk back down to La Condamine. During our stroll we discovered the most divine vintage clothes store – Chanel, Cavelli and Louis Vuitton – I wanted to buy the entire shop, but financial sense prevailed.

The next day we went into the heart of Monaco – Monte Carlo. With its grand casino and gardens one would think that it’s the capital of Monaco (which is Monaco-ville). It’s a glorious part of town with luxury shops, hotels and gardens that are every tourist’s dream. We decided not to go inside the Casino de Monte Carlo, however we did go inside the Café de Paris casino, which I found to be a dull experience, plus I bemused that people preferred to be in the dark when they could be basking in the sun. We quickly left and headed for the tranquillity of the Japanese garden – a quaint little spot influenced by Zen thinking.

After a hard day touring we went to a little jazz bar named “Le Jazz” near La Condamine which had a happy hour from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm. Its interior was plush and classy as one would expect and the music was a wonderful mix of classic soul and soft rock.

We decided against walking up to the Monte Carlo beach as the sun was beginning to set, so we went to The Champions Promenade near Larvotto beach.

Desert Drivers

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For my driving team of three, our lesson in desert driving began on a lonely stretch of Mauritanian road. Our guide, Mohammed, spent two minutes giving us our instructions: “Engage first gears, point wheels straight ahead, accelerate to the floor and don’t ride the clutch.”

My driving partners and I were in Mauritania as part of the Plymouth-Banjul rally. The idea behind it is to buy a car for less than a hundred pounds, then drive it across the Sahara. Our crew had been taking turns to drive our ancient Renault 18 (the ‘dix-huit’) for ten days now, but for us, and seven other decrepit rally cars, our Sahara challenge was just about to begin.

The entry to the desert is a difficult bed of soft sand. Mohammed stood by the tracks to guide us, his blue robe flapping in the wind. Somehow, I get the dix-huit through first time, despite Mohammed’s sceptical expression at the woman at the wheel.

The terrain alternated between firm, easy driving and beds of soft sand. Inexperienced, we drove too close to the other cars, unable to find the acceleration required to glide over the sand. We then spent the afternoon digging, pushing and towing. When all that failed, Mohammed took the wheel and expertly drove us out.

Our camp for the night turned out to be occupied by thirty other rally cars, driven by party-goers, so we had to sleep to the sound of AC DC blasting from their car stereos.

We discovered the next morning that Saharan rain feels like being spat at with wet sand. The dix-huit glided away in the first group of four. The piste here is a firm carpet of shells. Apart from a tyre change, we sped on, stopping only to take a sand-spattered lunch. All the cars in our group formed a square for shelter, which was really no shelter at all. Mohammed sat alone beneath a thorn tree, his face concealed by a wrap. I went over to sit with him, to find that the thorn tree provided perfect shelter from the wind. He made tea smelling of fresh grass, which he served in glasses, pouring it three or four times to make it froth.

The sun filtered through in the afternoon, casting a silvery light over the dunes. It was soon time to drive on and make camp. The group slept alone this time, in the shelter of a dune. The wind dropped and everything was still; Mohammed told us that we had had an easy day. Tomorrow, he prophesised, will be hard. I slept badly that night due to the owner of a Golf, snoring like an elephant in the next tent. The desert was turning out to be very noisy at night.

Morning arrived, chilly and damp until the sun rose and took hold. Mohammed squatted in the sand to give brief us. We had to cross a series of four long, low dunes which stretch for several kilometres. Our instructions were clear: drive as if your life depended on it and keep to Mohammed’s tracks.

The dunes looked insignificant as we pulled up – gentle slopes of sand held together by bits of scrub. Mohammed took the wheel of the Golf from the snorer, lit a Marlboro Red and motioned for us to follow.

The stretches of soft sand are long. Mohammed zoomed ahead. The dix-huit was heavy, but its grip on the sand was weak, as the backside of the car slid from side to side. In the deeper sand, we took turns to rev the car forwards only to find ourselves slipping sideways at forty degrees, as thorn bushes scratched at the wings. Once, we lost control completely and drove straight over a small tree; the branches made an agonising scraping sound on the oil tank beneath the car. We looked behind; fortunately there are no tell-tale fluid trails in the sand. The tracks were soft, deep furrows, to stop now would mean sinking into the ground. We were fast learning that speed was everything here.

We soon lost sight of everyone else, as we tried to guess, at the last minute, which tracks were fresh and where Mohammed might be. The car the spun around the corners in the sand, as Muhammad suddenly Mohammed appeared ahead on the brow of a hill. Before us was a deep valley of sand, Mohammed clenched his fist and whirled his arm like a windmill, screaming “Drive, drive drive!”

 

Diverse Traveller Research

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1. The DiverseTraveller.com reader survey!

We are still running our short travel survey (less than 10 mins.) asking some l questions your travel habits and views, plus your views on DiverseTraveller.com (current and future content).*

I would like to thanks the 278 readers (including a few men 🙂 who have already taken part, providing some very interesting information. I will provide a snippet of the results in the January 2007 edition.

To thank you for your participation we will enter your details into the DiverseTraveller.com Reader Survey draw. One lucky prize winner will receive a £50 Amazon.com gift certificate, while two runner-ups will each receive a DiverseTraveller.com bag.

2. Would you like be interviewed about your travels?

In addition to the above survey, DiverseTraveller.com is looking for women (you don’t have to be a DiverseTraveller.com member) to take part in a programme of regular research (in groups or over the telephone).

We want to hear from as many women as possible in order to obtain their views on today’s travel and tourism industry. We want to know what women want from travel, obtain feedback on what the travel industry is doing right, and what it could improve on.
To ensure we represent the diversity of women travellers, we are looking for women who:

* Travel on business (at least three times a month within the UK and at least once a quarter abroad)

* Travel regularly on their own (at least one trip a year alone abroad / UK. If you travel alone but join a group you can also apply)

* Travel with young children (abroad and / or UK at least once a year with children under 16 years old)

* Are aged 50+ years old (travel abroad at least twice a year and within the UK more frequently)

* Are ‘young travellers’ (aged 18 – 24 years old – who have travelled abroad on their own or with friends for a total of 3 months or more in the last two years)

* Have taken a ‘career gap’ abroad (min. three months) in the last three years.

Awe-Inspiring Travel Destinations

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Travel Destinations

Travelling to different parts of the world seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. We all want to be adventurous, and exploration is part of the process. By visiting such places, you are receiving the ideal break that takes you away from the usual work schedule. But for this, you need to visit the right set of places that will go along with anything, leaving you with a smiling face. So, start packing your bags because here are some inspiring travel destinations that you should not be missing.

 

Mu Cang Chai Rice Terraces, Vietnam

 

Mother nature offers some divine visuals and what better place than Vietnam to experience that feeling. Mu Cang Chai Rice Terraces in Vietnam is a place that can be described as the real heaven. By visiting this place, you will be exposed to some lush views of the regions deep valleys and the cool breeze that tends to start a conversation with you. Sitting at this place can be described as the best therapy that you can ever receive, and things will only get better.

 

Mendenhall Gardens in Juneau, Alaska

 

The Mendenhall Gardens in Juneau is also known as the ‘upside down forest’ for all the right reasons. By coming here, you will understand that poems about nature were all written with this in mind. The breeze that emerges from this lush garden needs to be experienced since you might run short of words to describe the feeling. Due to the various changes that the planet has been experiencing, you will only hope that nothing affects this gem of a place.

 

Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway

 

Norway’s Atlantic Ocean is an 8.3-kilometre stretch that passes through various islands, local villages and other such scenic visuals. Due to all that, the path has been termed as ‘the world’s best road trip’ and is being preserved as a cultural heritage site. By moving ahead into these routes, you can receive one of the best experiences in life, as each place has its own unique story. But if you are not a huge traveller, then you can also rest at one of these towns as they have a lot to offer.

 

Pamukkale, Turkey

Pamukkale, Turkey

One look at this place and you will mark your calendar right away. Apart from the visuals, the place also has a rich history that dates back to ancient Greek-Roman times. The natural bright white formation has been created by limestone deposits, and the hot springs tend to be a supernatural vision. As you keep passing by, you will be reminded of facts from history that are in the form of ruins. So, what are you waiting for? Start checking dates and head into these iconic places.