Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Small. I felt small in a world of skyscrapers. From the outside these tower blocks appear almost like gravestones for that is exactly what they are. It’s simplicity in design is effective as a memorial site; it wasn’t fancy or show off-ish and nor should it be. It was bold and brutal emulating the very act that caused this to happen. Walking through the maze, I was one, one of thousands there with me in spirit. The mass blocks commemorate all of the lives that were lost during the holocaust and I really felt that energy when walking side by side with the boulders.

Everything as grey: the day, the weather, the blocks. It felt somber and the rain fell down unapologetically. Everything about this place was symbolic and fitting.

Primo Levi paints it perfectly “It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.”

One must use history as a guide to ensure this never happens again. Learn from it, as it is everywhere. It is in the air; it mustn’t be forgotten.

Berlin.

Berlin

Greetings from Berlin. Guten morgen.

This is my final day here in Deutschland. I believe we’ve ‘seen it all’ but there is a part of em that would love to come back here and explore the ‘scene‘ and ‘culture’ more. I do think, however, that in order to do just that I’d have to up and leave my urban living in London and trade it in for a slice of European living here. I’d need at least a year here and a lot of German language lessons beforehand. Also a ski suit. I NEED one of those.

It’s Baltic here and if you add me into that mix, it just doesn’t work. I get cold all the time and if there is one thing I cannot stand it’s if my toes get cold – they’ve felt like ice for the duration of this trip.

Nein gut.

Winter has brought with it the christmas markets and festivity ad for that i am grateful. It been both warm and welcoming even if the winds weren’t. Somehow the winter weather made everything prettier to me. Walking through Tiergarten with the trees bare against the frost-bitten sky was appealing to me in every sense. The coldness glorified its atmospheric presence.

It was simply beautiful.

I think that’s what I like most about berlin; its simplicity. The buildings are tall and predominantly square, the transport links are efficient and easy to use, a lot of places are short walks away from each other and crossing the roads couldn’t be more safer here; if you obey the red and green man.

Like Berlin, our itinerary was simple. It featured everything that me and Jon wanted from tourist attractions to outdoor parks and coffee shops. On the list was: The Berlin Wall memorial, DDR museum, Alexanderplatz and the markets, East Side Gallery, Markethalle Neun, Brandenburg Gate, Reischtag, Bebelplatz, Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, Tiergarten and the palace, the victory column, Checkpoint Charlie, the Wall by Assisi and the Berliner Ensemble.

I had a delicious bite to eat at the Markethalle Neun (think London’s Borough market or Camden) – pulled pork burger featuring a glass of mulled wine (glühwein). Jon opted for a huge portion of pork from a traditional German food stand – the crackling was immense.

Finding a place to eat was always difficult. Jon took forever to decide what he actually wanted to eat in the evenings, often meandering down streets at a slower than average pace meaning that it would often take at least half an hour, sometimes longer, before we were actually able to sit down and enjoy our dinner. In the end though, the options were always great. On our first night we ate at lovely German restaurant near Alexanderplatz, having the currywurst and a large stein of beer. Our last night flew us across to Italy – Due Fratelli. We had a cute candlelit dinner in the heart of Berlin’s theatre district. £my vibes completely. It was here I got to see the Berliner Ensemble.

It’s been a great few days here and I’ve enjoyed the sightseeing, Berlin’s bitter weather, its festivity and its food. I can’t say when I’ll be back by I think I will.

Aid Wiedersehen.

Berlin in Pictures

Take a minute to visit my post on Berlin.

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We are one. Not two. One universe. If you believe in equality you can save the world.

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Where’s my licence?

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The nursery – DDR Museum.

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Brandenburg Gate
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Reischtag

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Empty room… photo moment.

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So a rather persistent German seller tried to persuade us into buying a nail buffer for Christmas. Spot the polished nail…

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This is me carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders

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Take a minute to visit my post on Berlin

Here’s a taste of Bavaria

 

What I loved about SE Asia

Teaching

My whole reasoning for going to Southeast Asia in the first place was to teach English to school children. It’s what I came out here to do. The kids were adorable even the naughty ones, like everything in Asia the teaching was crazy. You could never really pre-empt what was going to happen each day in each new classroom. One day a class could be perfectly well-behaved and then the next they behaved the worst in the world.

But behaviour aside, these kids all had one thing in common; the eagerness to learn. English to them was vital and you can see the hard work and determination in each student. It was worth it and I’m so glad I did it! I did have a few of my favourites – one girl GiGi with gorgeous hair and although she struggled she endeavoured to try her hardest to understand. I recall sitting with her I was teaching her about animals and when she finally understood what we were teaching her, her face lit up. Another boy although I’ve unfortunately forgotten his name, also had the most gorgeous hair remains in my mind because although at times he could be quite the mischievous chap you could tell he wanted to be there ever so much. Despite this cheeky persona, his work was always completed and with great accuracy.

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Teaching the children about directions and the world.
The people

In both Vietnam and Cambodia I found such honest and compassionate people. My heart however fell in love with the Cambodian people. They have a heart of gold. I found them much more inviting than some local Vietnamese. I found the Vietnamese a lot more reserved. In Cambodia they rush out to greet you as though you are a celebrity it was endearing but not necessary but still it was warm and welcoming. They always had smiles on their faces and would stop to talk to you. Don’t get me wrong the hospitality in Vietnam was great and I met such amazing and kind people there like Lucy at Freedom Hostel Hue and Chang my High Van Pass driver.

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I have the locals to thank for making my stay in Cambodia and happy and memorable one. Thankyou to NaNa, Mr Beer, ChaNa, James and all their loving family for the endless amounts of hospitality they shown me and the warm conversations I had.

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The charm and the sense of adventure

Both countries had such a charm. Cambodia was more of an preserved charm where as the more developed Vietnam had a different sort of charm. Each city was here different and so it’s charm is that of the surprisal element. I don’t quite know how to explain it. Everywhere I went I faced a new adventure; just getting on the buses themselves proved just that. The so much to do out here from canyoning to zip lining, to helping conserve the elephants to visiting the national parks. For me, this was both the first time in Asia the first time travelling on my own so I was expecting mayhem; mayhem is exactly what I received.

I got lost several times and even got stranded on a kayak in the middle of Ha Long Bay. It’s on the road that you learn from your mistakes like being late for your train from Hanoi to Hue – that was fun. being on the road I soon found myself becoming much better at navigating the streets as the weeks unfolded and i even rode a motorbike, ON MY OWN, through Hue for the first time – without a license might I add. So yeah, there are endless amounts of opportunities for you to potentially injure yourself or die having fun here in Asia but I believe there is an attraction to that. It adds to this nations charm. You’re almost invincible in a world where the crazy is the nations normal. Which leads me to my next point: transport.

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Myself and Anita testing our tastebuds by eating a snake.
Transport

Let’s start with Cambodia. Tuk Tuks – we should make these a thing in the cities of the UK. They’re an unforgettable ride through the hustle and bustle of the city. They are both quick and thrilling, I loved my time in them as they were my only means of transport in Cambodia. Motorbikes however dominated Vietnam everyone owned one. They had power on the roads and just dodging the vehicles was a task within itself. But it was a dangerous task I learned to love. Before I knew it I was able to cross the roads just like the locals and i took great pride in that.

Then there were the night buses. I was on five in total Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh to Saigon, Hà Nội and Nha Trang, Dalat to Saigon. The first of the  five slept 2 to a bunk with the rest of them featuring reclining seat (up to 75°) leaving little room for the legs of a 5 foot 10 man like myself. Wi-Fi almost never worked, the Air-con blasted Antarctica out to get you – I remember a very angry Ciara waking up shivering. We even resulted in shoving a pair of shorts into the hole to stop the air of death escaping from its abyss. There were several toilet breaks on each sometimes on the side of the road and other times at restaurants with squat toilets – they were fun. Speaking of toilets…

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Sometimes you’d see a family of 5 on one motorbike.
Toilets

SE Asia isn’t well-known for its high quality flushing toilet but what it did have instead was what I called the ‘bum gun’. The bum gun is your friend. I loved its use and it should become a common feature in the homes of Great Britain. Not only is it hygienic but it’s also very cleansing and refreshing. It’s a bit like a bidet and ensures that all the mess in that region is cleaned up.

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The open road.
Food

There’s no question that the food out here is delicious. There’s a variety of flavours for you to try as soon as you walk out of your hostel door. I had both street food and food in restaurants. My go to was simple yet delicious pork with fried noodles and veg but when I was feeling a bit more adventurous I tried the likes of pho in Vietnam, durian ice cream in Hue, com tam in Saigon, a vast amount of rice dishes and curry’s and even delicacy’s like silk worms, snakes, crickets and geckos.

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Beer

Before this trip, I was never a beer drinker but it had indeed grown on me. Now when I go out I’m often ordering pints with a hint of lime for myself. Changed man? I think so. Beer was just the refreshment you needed on a hot and humid south East Asian day. It was the perfect cool down anyone could ask for, and besides I was on my travels. I especially love Cambodia’s ‘Angkor Smooth’, I drank way to many of those although my friend Ciara holds the record of at least 5 a day. It was both light and refreshing. ‘Saigon Red’ had more of a fizz to it but it was still easy to drink, for a non beer consumer that is.

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Ciara ft Angkor Smooth and a stolen helmet.

For more check out my coffee series in Vietnam.

"Don’t be lazy, be crazy!" – Canyoning through Dalat with GroovyGecko Tours.

The day started at 6:30 am although I reluctantly got a jiggle on by 7am before making my way down for breakfast. In a matter of minutes my minibus was here.

Today was not for princesses or princes as their website stated. Today was a day for the adventurous and the risk takers. I like to think of myself as someone who fits quite comfortably in those categories. We picked up 5 mor people; 2 Taiwanese, 2 Austrian and 1 German – all girls.

Our first waterfall was a mere 7m. Easy peasy. My only feedback was not to hold the supporting rope to tightly.

Noted.

After submerging into the pool of water below I was ready to get on to the next cascading fall. This one was 30m. This was the most difficult of the three due to its steepness and awkwardness to navigate through. I endeavoured to carry on though and complete the 30m drop and I did just that.

So after a minibus, jeep transfer through the mountains and 2 waterfalls completed we decided now was a good time to stop fora spot of lunch. All divided by the company. It considered of 2 baguettes each and a selection of snacks (Pineapple, mango, banana, Oreos and banana bread.) it was delicious and very much needed.

In front of us the sun was shining and the landscape was covered in forest green pines. It was beautiful here. We were alone and in that moment I felt as though all my worries and fears had evaporated into the Alpine air. I was here and I was myself.

I had an eternity of freedom and confidence in my grasps and I wasn’t about to let that go. As i stood there facing t into the wilderness, I said to myself to remember this moment and the utter joy you feel wholeheartedly.

Time to get crazy once again. Next stop 65m. What a drop. A part of me wished I hadn’t liked down, it took my breath away. But then again I’m not the type too listen to my gut in these types of situations. Bad i know but hey live life on the edge right?

After 3 people climbed down, it was finally my time to brave the dangerous downpour. I plummeted into the abyss, water attacking my face. I abseiled down the fall, letting the rope slip through my fingertips. Unfortunately my gloves kept getting stuck and due to the rope being wet it meant that it was getting more and more heavier by the second making it harder to get down the rocks. Eventually I got to the midway point. Here it was way more slippy that the track above. I couldn’t even see my feet anymore; they were disguised within the waters.

I thought now would be a good way to hum my way through. Wrong. I lost my balance. There was something so precious about that money. Despite the support from our guides, I was very much alone on this waterfall and I relished in this. The idea of falling and tripping up whilst getting down this beast of a waterfall enthused me. I was determined and I was ready to slam down on the acceleration.

Before i knew it I was gliding my way down like a pro. I thought the view from the top was breathtaking but from down here it was more than anything you could ever imagine. The sheer size was dominating my pupils. It was simply stunning. Mesmerising in fact. I felt proud and accomplished. It was like nothing I had ever done before.

Shortly afterwards we were jumping into a nearby pool of natural water. The trek back to base was trying however. It was an upward incline back to the rope; where we had started all those hours ago. My energy had depleted but it was totally worth it.

I had possibly the best day in all of existence.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

Never be afraid to take the risks, you’ll thank yourself later for all that you have accomplished.

Nightmare in Paradise – Ha Long Bay

Today was a day for kayaking. Despite the raining rather, we all braved it out and cruised our way along the bay. Ciara, being Ciara, decided it would be a grand idea to take a detour away from the group on the terms of us ‘only having a few more hours left together before she departs for Thailand.’ I should have known it was was going to be a bad idea.

“If you insist” I replied.

So, off we went rowing toward the unknown. With a semi-plan sought out in or minds we prcoceeded onto the loop of the ‘big rock’ as Ciara called it. There were several ‘big rocks’ that day.

As we ventured out, more and more away from shore, we soon found there to e no right turn. Anywhere. So we continued voyaging straight ahead. We aw several villages on the waters. All had guard dogs that were quite vicious to us foreigners. Eventually we kind a right turn and we followed it not knowing where the hell we were going. But. At this point we didn’t care. We were surrounded by these beautiful boulders that lay there majestically. Watching the jellyfish float by, knowing we were safe inside out kayak, was somewhat peaceful as we soared across their home. It wasn’t until we took several more turns, in the wrong direction, later that we started to panic.

By ‘we’ I mean me.

We were lists. That’s the simple truth to it. Neither one of us knew where on earth we were. We had no phones to call for help. Nor did we know a number to call for said help. This is where I lost my shit. I snapped and I froze and a big parted of me wanted to burst into tears. I needed to be rescued.

Ciara, keeping calm, suggested we go back the way we came. The thought of that seemed unbearable. I was tired and so was she but like the true warriors of the seas we were, we sailed our way back through de ja vu.

Somewhere along the line we took a turn we’d ever taken before. We were asking nearby bats and Vietnemese people in the village for help. But none of them spoke a word of english let alone being able to understand our pleas for he. With no directions and no hope we sat there for a money in our kayaks, upset and miserable.

This is it i thought. I’ll be here forever.

My mind wandered over to Ciara’s earlier comment that I found humorous.

“This is where we die. They will kidnap us and use us as fish people.”

Now, not so funny. Several rows later we found an island. Was this really ours or are we imagining this? God know how long we had been stranded in this boat. For. Their beach looked so much longer that the one I remembers though. We decided to sail in its direction anyway in search of some hospitality.

A little further down the lie there was an open gap between two of the boulders. Through this gap we found our home. We were safe at last. We were victorious but there was still a huge part of me tat wanted to knock Ciara out with the oar that got us back home.

Go kayaking they said… It will be fun they said…

Giants in the sky – Ha Long Bay

Idyllic.

These giant bodies of jungle rock boulder over the bay’s tides. Almost as if they are protectors of the lands. They hang there majestically watching down upon the green enormity below. Their silence echoes all around, you couldn’t help but be engulfed by their beauty. The weighted jungle cascades down from the rocks in every crack and crevice. They are its inhabitants and rightly so.

Charcoal black and jungle green mixed well on this particular occasion.

I dreamt of pterodactyls flying over the masses; I was in a world different to my own. A Jurassic world. It was so surreal. I was in paradise and I could not be happier.

The calm before the storm

The sound of heavy rain engulfed the room. It was rainfall in the jungle. It’s clouds spat out warm downpours that seemed to never end. I could lie there listening for hours.

 

Serenity.

 

I silently drifted off into a deep sleep. It was just me, my dreams and the sound of the jungle. I was calm and content and peacefully asleep.

 

UNTIL

 

“Help! Help! I need a doctor.” Screamed a frantic Irish lady. For a moment I lay there thinking “Am I still dreaming?” I later realised I was not and the voice turned into a voice I recognised all to well.

 

It was the cry of Anita O’Shea.

 

Scrambling to find my phone,

 

I turned on the torch, put on my shorts and faced the wilderness.

 

Wallo had just had a seizure and was throwing up at the side of her mouth. She needed medical attention. When she did wake she wasn’t lucid and her eyes were dilated. She wasnt with it. It was like she was talking but it was as if she wasn’t there. After several stumbles later we managed to get her back to what seemed like normal.

 

Ciara rang her mum, a nurse. She explained possible reasons for this seizure and told Una to get her to a doctor asap. Una, our leader for the evening isn’t a rep and so she never received any first aid training before venturing out here. This is a foreign country to her and in that moment I felt like the world was swallowing her up. But she pulled through.

 

After the persuasion of the group wallow was taken to hospital. I think the scariest thing about all of this is that we were in the middle of nowhere as newbies with a newbie as our rep. I took little notice o this however to avoid anymore hysteria from the group. Instead I tried to get back to sleep ad surprisingly I was out quicker than you could say flash.

 

Once again: sweet dreams and hopefully no more disturbances in the jungle.

 

Goodnight.

 

The purpose of friendship – what do you think?

My friends are my family and they know that. I’m bad in the sense that I don’t always text them that often but they’re always in my thoughts; even old school friends who I haven’t necessarily kept in the loop. I do however stay updated with them whether it be by just having a nose on their social media. Its here I  realise the mistake in this but it’s an easier way for me to check in on them from time to time as I can’t exactly just drop everything and travel from london whenever I feel like it.

I wish I could but I can only catch up when I’m home for the holidays and even then that is only a limited amount of time. People have their own lives, they move on, they work. But I often find myself longing for how it used to be. I miss the familiar faces but I do know that if ever we see each other in passing it’s always back to how it used to be.

 

And I like that.

 

I’m sat here writing all of this on a park bench in the middle of Saigon, Vietnam. A group of students have just stopped by and asked to film me learning simple Vietnamese sentences; that was fun. It’s weird how the thought has just struck me now though. I guess I’m regretting not keeping in touch with people as much as I should have. After all a simple text really isn’t that hard to send now is it.

 

But in light of this topic, I’d like to discuss the interconnections and relationships we have as human beings. What exactly draws us, as people, together? Is it the whole opposites attract idea or the complete opposite? Do we base our relationships off of what we need from someone. For instance we all have that go to friend for advice or the friend you want to let your hair down with.

I guess if you asked me this question years ago my view on the matter would be different. Blame it on the high school culture and the idea that popular kids don’t mix with the non popular kids. Fortunately this was never exactly the case with me. Yes I was in the ‘it crowd’ so to speak but the way my year worked out was that we all kind of mixed well together. More so in the latter half of our education. I would like to think I also mixed in with the majority of people. I made friendships that my group never necessarily made and I’m so glad I did. It’s these guys that I miss from time to time. They’re the ones I stalk.

Sorry not sorry.

Don’t get me wrong I miss my closest friends terribly when I’m away and I have done ever so much on this trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. But, I know I can and will always see them whenever I like. I’m regularly updated with their lives and its such a joy to see them moving forward and creating new paths for themselves in life. We, like anyone you meet in life, are massively different to one another and that’s what glues us together. I like to think that I’m the ‘voice of reason’ within my friendship group back home and even though they hate me for it sometimes, they know I coming from a place of truth and just in terms of what I think and how I perceive the world.

As I’ve grown older I’ve noticed that I find beauty in people completely different to me, they give me an opportunity to learn and to grow. Yes, its much easier to form a connection based off common interests but I challenge you to do something new. Speak to a stranger and get to know them. They might be worlds apart from your norm and you as a person but sooner or later you’ll realise you’re not so different from one another after all. I’ve tried to embody this on my travels here in South East Asia through both the locals and tourists who fly past you from city to city.

I once read that life was all about perception and how you see the world. If you’re only ever looking into the word from one viewpoint how are you going to see the beauty and magic from all of the other different viewpoints around you. You have to allow yourself to see; see with your whole eyes, not just the eyes of someone who has lead you to believe that this is the only sight to see.

Sometimes that person is yourself; I know that.

Harper Lee paints it perfectly.

 

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his sling and walk around in it.”

Out here on the road I’ve been witness to the kindness of humanity and strangers. From simple directions to general help, from an invitation to join people throughout the night to free lifts on the back of a motorbike. And it doesn’t end there. If you put yourself out there, people will come flying right back to you.

I do believe that.

The purpose of friendship to me is about being open; open to both the old and the new. Open to new people, new worlds in fact. If you branch out people will climb on board. They will listen but so will you. You have friends throughout different stages of your life and as selfish as this may seem they serve you. They have a purpose. Just as you have a purpose and serve them. It works both ways.

Never forget that.

It’s about showing kindness and gratitude to your friends for being there in the hard times as well as the good times. It’s about having the courage to tell them when they’re wrong and being able to accept when you are also in the wrong. Friendship is the purpose of life, your companions aid you on your journey just as you do them. You needed them once and you’re sure as hell going to need them again. So keep them close and shower them with both your gratitude and your love. When you meet someone great, hold onto them because it’s within each other that you find your own greatness.

Overnight stay at the elephant sanctuary

This place is the jungle. It’s the home of ‘Save the Elephants’ here in Cambodia and what an absolutely terrific job they’re doing. In comparison to the elephants I had seen at Angkor Wat carrying paying tourist after another, these elephants looked over the moon. They were joyous and loud and full of life. Maybe that was because it was dinner time. But I think more importantly it was because these elephants have been rescued, saved from unnatural labour. They had their mojo back and it was a flame that is never ever going to burn out again.

We started the day off by teaching at a nearby school. Our topic for the day was Time. A lot of them couldn’t understand us that well and had difficulty reading through the texts but we endeavoured to do our best and make it work. The children were extremely grateful. We then played a few games with them outside before we left.

Next, it was elephant time. I helped chop up the sugar canes for the elephants whereas one of the locals prepared Kimlin’s rice bowl. She’s 65 years old and blind. She even sprayed Emma with water – amazing.

It was so nice being up close feeding the elephants. They genuinely looked happy and were free to roam. They were loving life and their food hampers. You can tell this sanctuary really helps make a difference in rebuilding the animals confidence in knowing that they truly have their soul back and are free.

“We must protect, preserve and care about more than just ourselves. Humans are just one small component of a much larger ecosystem here on planet earth.”

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Today I learnt that the elephants lean on something to go to sleep and only catch about 2-4 hours each night. They’re such majestic creatures and it pained me watching the videos about their brutal past and present situations. Logging is now banned but elephant tourism is still here mainly due to travelers endorsing into the industry. It’s wrong on so many levels. If only people knew what exactly goes on in this industry. They’re often tied up, stabbed with hooks and de-animalised everyday. And for what? A 20 minute ride and a pit stop for pictures?

I wish I had more time here to experience more of what this place actually does.  But so far, the outcome and future prospects are incredible.

I did enjoy sitting out on the benches watching the elephants from sunset to dusk. It was tranquil ad peaceful and allowed for me to sit there and take everything in.

It was a great writing spot.

Now I’m in bed, like a princess under my mosquito net. Hopefully it keeps the bugs out.

But

For right now, I don’t really care that much. I can hear the crickets singing and the insects dancing. It’s a lullaby that I dont ever want to end.

Sweet dreams.