Archive for March, 2012

Many  travelers overlook the benefits of stop over options while enroute to their final destination. Quite often stop over privileges are either free or granted at very low cost by the carrier. I have no such hesitation and make it a point to take advantage of every opportunity to discover a new city or to revisit one I have already fallen in love with and wish to rekindle a quickie romance. Recently I had the opportunity to take a 24 hour stop over in Hong Kong and jumped at the chance. I have been visiting Hong Kong for thirty plus years. I have an endless love affair with this city.

Rapid change has always been the hallmark of Hong Kongs famous harbour skyline. It makes the city seem fresh every time I visit. New buildings stand where old haunts used to be forcing me to take new directions and discover entirely new markets and streets that had eluded me on previous trips. Hong Kong and I are on a constant voyage of discovery. It’s like a marriage, the more we change, the more we love one another.

From the purely selfish perspective of an ‘Old Asia Hand’ I would have preferred they kept Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong as the port of arrival, now that was an airport entrance like no other. The runway was pulled from the water and the flightpath ran straight through the high towers of Tsim Tsa Tsui. On approach the aircraft would literally fly so close to the buildings that you could see people at their kitchen tables reading a paper from out the window of the plane as you descended. Once clear of the buildings the pilot would bank the plane fiercely as if to roll the craft over onto it’s side. From that position of what seemed like a 30% angle all you could see was either sky or water depending on what side of the plane you were seated.

The Kai Tak runway was a skinny strip of asphalt out into the water and short. When the pilot touched down he jammed on the brakes to skid to a stop..welcome to Hong Kong, it was a thrilling way to arrive at this exotic destination. Leaving the airports front entrance was to step directly into downtown Kowloon, you could walk to your hotel in those days. Some did, to make peace after the fear of flying they had just experienced. For many newbie arrivals into HK at the time, Kai Tak was also their first ‘near death’ experience. I count myself as one of those. Old hands rarely spilled a drink knowing what was coming when the plane cleared the last two towers.

Modern Chep Lap Kok airport is boring by comparison. It is much more modern, much larger, but situated on Lantau Island removed from the city by fourty minutes of ultra modern freeway and bridge connection by taxi. The current fare, which is negotiable depending on the number of bags you carry at around $240 Hong Kong Dollars for any number of people. I stay downtown Kowloon at an old favorite, The Nathan Hotel, appropriately named as it is situated on Nathan Road, the main street of Kowloon running from Yau Mei Tai to Tsim Tsa Tsui.

This street is on the subway line, the closest station o the hotel being Jordan Station, a connection to every part of either Kowloon, New Territories and Hong Kong Island can be made from here. The Nathan Hotel and I are old friends. They have undergone a modern renovation and in my opinion is one of the most comfortable hotels in Kowloon. I was very fortunate this time to be granted an upgrade to the Nathans ‘Grand Room’ suite for being a loyal repeat customer. The Bali Room restaurant on the 15th floor was a welcome inclusion to my holiday. I was able to have bacon for breakfast along with many other western delights, included in the room price. If you wonder why I mention this it is because I hadn’t had a western style breakfast for exactly 6 months and this was a real treat.

My wife Patricia and I were on a mission to see as much of Hong Kong in the 24 hours we had allotted ourselves. A requested late check out privilege at the hotel was a big help in our quest. The evening of our arrival began at the airport where we were whisked through immigration by some travel miracle. In about 45 minutes we had taken a cab, driven into the city, checked in to the hotel with an amazing level of efficiency, dropped our bags, donned comfortable shoes and hit the street for our nights itinerary, all within an hour and a half. First stop, Mong Kok, the Ladies Market, so called for it’s traditional collection of women’s clothing stores. But, it is so much more today. Mong Kok is a microcosm of everything Hong Kong. Time Square has nothing on the neon lights of Mong Kok.

The streets are packed with people. There are street hawkers and buskers playing music. New Mong Kok is a great market for electronics and photo equipment. The famous lanes are still excitingly filled with a tremendous variety of clothing, accessories and tourist must haves. Young people by the thousands come to Mong Kok to revel at night, the atmosphere is very lively. I love the snack carts and kiosks that line the streets here in Asia, Hong Kong does this as well as anyone. The food is clean and delicious. This time we found the seafood on a stick to be most to our liking and ate while we ambled along the streets to enjoy the general ambiance.

The evening was greatly enhanced by the Hong Kong transit system. For less that $1 Canadian Dollar , $4 Hong Kong Dollars, we jumped on the train and headed to our next destination after we were sure that we’d had as good a time in Mong Kok as anyone could. Next stop, Yau Mei Tai, the Jade Market street which at night, becomes a open air market of an older Hong Kong style that represents the commerce of an era long past. People come out of their high rise homes and eat in the streets below when it’s too hot to cook.

The subway stop let us come up into the Temple Street North market aka The Jade Market ,and walk straight into this delightful neighborhood. This is an area where at night restaurants place tables out into the pedestrian only street. It’s very gay and bright. Several beer bars and entertainment complexes are pouring music out in the open air. People by the hundreds are dining Al fresco under the warm night sky. This is as romantic a destination as any I have found on my travels around the world. Patricia and I always come here whenever in Hong Kong.

However our destination was several blocks away, past the Taoist temple park where fortune tellers have tents all along the sidewalks for those who seek an insight to their destiny from the gods. We would walk through the gauntlet of hawker stands along the way. These vendors can be selling anything from hardware and appliances to sex toys and antique watches or communist party memorabilia. It’s quite pleasant to be able to walk at night through this uber urban setting and meet with such amicable surroundings. I have never felt anything but safe while walking in Hong Kong and do so without restraint. We were headed to the other Temple Street Market, the really big one, on Temple Street South in the Jordan District. This street is a unique market in Hong Kong in that it not only offers a walk through an amazing assortment of goods for sale, good and bad. But at every cross street corner there are restaurants set up for you to sit down and indulge yourself in a variety of favorites.

My tastes are fairly simple and I had a hankering for a really good bowl of ‘melt in your mouth’ beef brisket in noodle soup with a side dish of steamed vegetables in oyster sauce. The atmosphere is electric, there are people from around the world enjoying themselves. The locals are dominant by the way and this is an authentic Hong Kong experience like no other if are like me and collect such experiences like others collect stamps. You’ll likely find yourself in conversation with complete strangers interested in your travel story. Hong Kong people like visitors. Learn a few words of Cantonese and you’re going to find new friends are easily made.

A little after midnight Pat and I agreed to have an early evening so that we could get up for breakfast at 7AM and do the rest of the town as we saw fit. I had two things on my agenda, the first being the early morning bakery offerings. Hong Kong bakers make the best Dan Tat , Chinese egg custard, in the world. When it’s hot and fresh from the oven there are few food experiences  that can surpass the flavour of a Dan Tat  fresh and being eaten on the streets of the busy city that invented gourmet street food.

I’m also a creature of habit and like to revisit old memories when in Hong Kong. I have to take a ride across the harbour on the ancient Star Ferry. The ferry terminal on Kowloon’s water front hasn’t changed since built in  an earlier century when HK was still an outpost of the British Empire, it’s a veritable time capsule of old Hong Kong. There is no better way to get the full ‘Hong Kong experience’ than from the wooden deck of the Star Ferry. The views of the imposing cityscape is one of the best in the world. This time I rode ‘The Twinkling Star’, she’s a venerable original in the fleet.

The Trabzon border station into Iran from Turkey was chaotic.  Turkey was contemporary in 1975  compared to Medieval Iran. It was as if we’d slipped through a time portal into a world that had passed thousands of years before. Turkey was a  nation built on mud brick, Iran had been snatched from the dust. These people had nothing, not even shelter. At the ragged lean-to that Eddy, our intrepid driver, assured us was the border station, a wretchedly filthy and toothless man was butchering a goat on the sidewalk , bleeding the carcass into the street. The Magic Bus from London to New Delhi had arrived.

“Welcome to Iran,” Eddy called back to us. This was everyone’s first experience with the brutal poverty of Iran , a state which  would entertain us for the next several thousand miles across the bleak section of the world called Asia Minor. The big silver door had just been opened when a wild eyed young man in a ragged tunic jumped aboard wearing a military looking peaked cap as if blown in by a desert scirrocco . He shouted ‘Passport, Passport,” in a thick accent and waving his arms.

Eddy promptly turned him around by the scruff of his neck and eased him out the door without argument. “Your passport’s worth a thousand dollars in these parts,” he said. “Never let it out of your sight.” Instead we waited in the baking heat for several hours behind a train of trucks and trailers at the border  for the real guards to finish whatever they were doing and get to us. I had a brief chat with some  lorry drivers and they told me that depending on what they were carrying they could be here for days, “In Shah Allah,” God willing. When the border agents did finally come our way they were intercepted by others trying to jump the queue who insisted the Muslims should be allowed through first and that seemed to carry some influence with the guards.

The collection of shacks on the border was the last sign of human occupation for a thousand miles. We were in the deep desert, uninhabited except for the occasional nomad caravan of camels and shadow people in the distance. The sand had swallowed everything that had come before us. Heading towards the capital of Tehran was a grinding process because of the heat. We had to drive slowly so as not to bake the engine. At night an  incredible view of  unblemished constellations was visible from our stand on the ghostly silent road. The phrase ‘in the middle of nowhere’ took on a deeply profound new significance. After a day and a vigilant night  a white city began to  loom in the distance.  I thought I had been transported back to ancient Babylon.

As we entered the outer city limits,  grey desert began to transform into lush greenery. Paved roads replaced the dirt track highway. White low rise buildings were hung with layers of flowing leafy creepers, window ledges crowded with flowering pots in red and purple. The streets were deserted, shadow women in wraith like burka’s darted in and out of sight, we were in the empire of the Shah Reza Pahlavi, a brutal and repressive dictator. His close friends and regime supporters had surrounded themselves with a decadent  island of civilization not shared with the rest of the country. Eddy knew of a parking lot fairly close to the center of the city and we stopped there.

It was a walled caravansarai in every sense of the word except that these wandering merchants were not leading camels, they were the drivers of truck convoys laden with goods destined for hinterlands far beyond Tehran. Open air cold showers and roast mutton were welcomed by all but the women who had to bucket bath behind blankets and couldn’t eat within sight of the men’s camp. Sorry girls, that part of the world is still mired in proto-modernity. We men sat around an open fire swapping travel stories under the moon as travelers had along the silk road from the time of  ancient kingdoms that time had long since swept  into oblivion. I slept in the open that night under a pantheon of stars.  I thought that this scene had welcomed travelers on this  spot for perhaps thousands of years. It was like Marco Polo, in the 20th century.

Loaded with provisions we were road savvy zealots by the time we headed off to Meshed on the  Afghan border. We would cross at Herat. Little would we know the storm of war brewing in the Kremlin and how  Russia would invade Afghanistan within 18 months plunging the brutally impoverished country into a murderous no mans land for travelers . The farther east along the highway we sped, the farther back in time we traveled. When we came to the  Afghan border the Tardis  stopped spinning somewhere around the 6th  century. It was the first time I had encountered troglodytes, cave dwellers along the hillsides. The border guards didn’t have shoes or shirts under their threadbare uniform jackets let alone any obvious sense of the 20th century about them.

I had read about places like Herat in the journals of Marco Polo and the famous Arabic scholar/traveler Ibn Battuta. The red mud of the desert had been made to stand up into  rudimentary one story hovels on a simple frame of tortured wood poles. The peoples costume had something of the Aladdin flair. The extra large turbans  Afghan men wore and the long beards were something I hadn’t seen before. Their curled toed leather sandals were brilliant. I bought a pair.

It was only here where women wore  netting over the eye’s  so that nothing of their appearance could be seen by an outsider. They held the netting tight to their eyes to see where they were going and not trip over the full length hems of their blue or grey burkhas as they picked their way through the rubbish  strewn and sodden streets. Raw meat dangled on hooks in shop fronts, but none  made me hungry. Butchery seemed more like an act of tearing flesh off a dead animal in ragged strips rather than the linear precision we’d call presentable in the west. Flies were ubiquitous , no attempt was made to curtail their dominance.

Houses and shopfronts were interchangeable,  like  fortresses with heavy gates to bar forced entry . The courtyards were filled with animals, mostly goats and small donkey’s. Larger area’s had pens of bound camel , waiting on their knee’s for who knows what. The most memorable characteristic of the town was the incredible stench of sewage and blood. Guts were left to lay in the sun under black blankets of buzzing flies and ringed by snarling curs.

I would come back to Afghanistan in the months before the war to visit the Lapis blue lakes above the Bamiyan Valley  to see the incredible statues of Buddha carved into the cliff walls. The lakes are still there, the Buddha’s have been blown to smithereens by the Taliban after resting in the sleepy valley for 2500 years. Kabul was a  flyblown shotgun setting  of one miserable treet gilded by a single hotel, the Holiday Inn. It was such an anomaly we had to stop and have a drink in the bar. It was the only place serving alcohol for thousands of miles in either direction. The rectangular building looked like a space machine had landed in the midst of a 7th century biblical ghetto.

I fended off many offers to buy large and small firearms from various merchants in the Kabul Bazaar. It was  a country where every man young and old was armed to the teeth with pistols, knives, swords, muskets and modern weapons of every sort. Being a man and unarmed in this country was  unusual , they wanted me to load up for my own good. Looking back I should have know that something was up. The gun shops in the back lanes of Kabul were cranking out knock off weapons like a war was coming, it was, three decades worth and counting.

I was looking forward to the Khyber Pass crossing into Pakistan. We’d be retracing the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Darius, Genghis Khan the Moguls and the British Expeditionary Force. The police told us  we’d have to join a caravan of vehicles to cross through  Pushtun territory. Unruly tribesmen could make short work out of a busload of unarmed hippies.  Afghan tribal leaders have been murdering foreigners who dared cross into their territory since  Alexander. We’d stay with the caravan through the border region, past Peshawar and well on the way to Islamabad where the tribes no longer had the gun power to flaunt the national fantasies of the State of Pakistan.

I talked my way onto the roof of a loaded lorry so  I could ride through the Khyber in the open. It was breathtaking, I was sitting on the shoulders of my heroes, the great explorers. We wound through the winding pass on razor thin tracks cut into the side of raw mountain. Rock falls were evident , down in the valleys below at the worst corners, evidence of misfortune lay glinting in the unforgiving sun. Eddy assured us that Pakistan was nothing but filth and squalor, we took him at his word, and sped right through towards India. We would cross at Waguh, on the colonial Grand Trunk Road, the only passable land border between the feuding states of India and Pakistan.

The scene I  met at the border stuck in my mind forever, The Punjabi Sikh border guard met me as if I were a long lost relative being rescued from an ultimate evil. The impossibly tall man in full regalia shouted “Welcome to India Sir” and ushered me under a stone arch that divides the two mortal enemies. It was a strange feeling, but after so much time on the road I actually experienced an emotion of ‘home coming’. Every subsequent visit to India has brought back that memory. I feel very much at home there to this day. I answered his invitation with , “I’m really happy to be here”. Stamp stamp  and I was a native of India for the next six months as stated in my well used passport.

I can describe a state of mind where bliss and happiness, satisfaction and wonder are all rolled up into one beautiful moment. Amazingly, my companion travelers were all of the same  persuasion. Even the usually talkative and boisterous Eddy was pensive and contemplative as we made a bee-line towards Delhi. Everyone had their own plans around what they would do once we left the Tardis…ahem…Magic Bus.

The countryside was hypnotic. The Indians have chosen colour as their weapon against  drab clay and rusty earth. Everything was new, words, food, deeds, people, livestock, architecture. Fantastic ziggurat temples rose out of the flat soil, painted in every bright hue . The gods they housed were every bit as fantastic as the temples that housed them.

The city of New Delhi begins a thousand miles away from it’s epicenter. The build up in population is only a precursor to the crowded streets  in the city. It reached a point where we were  constantly shoulder to shoulder inside a seething mass of humanity. I was elated, afraid, in wonder, amused, all in a day. Our journey as a clan of intrepid travelers ended in a  nondescript parking lot in the Pahar Ganj district close to  Delhi railway station. This would prove fortuitous to me as I would ride the trains for months to discover this great land in a way that many Indians envy . I went everywhere, north-south-east-west , no matter the distance or hardship.

Eventually I found a virtually secret little place along the coast south of Bombay called Goa. There were only four other westerners there, no where to stay and no restaurants. Just an untended beach along the Arabian Sea.

I was fortunate to be introduced to a fisherman who agreed to move  his family out of his comfortable mud and cow dung thatch roofed shack with  outside well and pig cleaned outhouse, for the princely sum of sixteen cents a day. I had to get up early if I wanted  fresh fish from the boats on the beach.  I bought a kerosene cooker to make rice with the only two vegetables grown in local gardens, tomato and onion. My journey to India had just begun.

My editor has requested that I try to keep my columns  to 2000 words or less. This is not normally an issue, but this week is different. I have recently completed a circumnavigation of the planet in the space of 30 days. I waited a lifetime to do this, 2000 words is hardly enough.

I had always dreamed about circumnavigating the planet. I had coveted those ‘around the world’ tickets advertised in the newspaper travel section since I was a little kid. Some people read the sports page, others the comics, for me it was always the travel section. The idea appealed to me as being the keystone of the travelers Shangri-lah . I could be Cook or Magellan for a paltry $2500.00.It was the dream of a child, $2500 dollars was kings ransom and still is, an impossible dream.


It would remain my ultimate fantasy into adulthood. In spite of later traveling to 70 plus countries for business and pleasure over a thirty year period, I had never accomplished to circle the globe in one continuous flight-line. When the opportunity arose I leapt at the chance like a hungry tiger.

Fellow time traveler and captain of my heart Patricia and I spent several weeks plotting out our trip like two blue water sailors pouring over a chart table.We decided to visit as many favorite old favorites as  discover new destinations. We like to kick back in an old haunt and revisit a precious memory or two as much as making new ones. Travel is about relaxing, time on the road carving out new directions can be exhausting, a little ‘hammock time’ is good for your soul.

Admittedly, there are those special moments that make ‘hard travel’   worthwhile when something amazing appears out of nowhere after a long day beating the streets of a far flung capital or a trip through  bus travel hell to some jungle hideaway . One perfect photograph in the can or an idyllic sunset emblazoned on your conscious  is worth a million miles of trekking, bone cracking hours of riding a chicken bus, and the costs and effort of finally ‘being there’. If die hard travelers were a Medieval religious order we’d  be referred to as ‘fanatics’.

Our route would take us west across the Pacific, first to Hong Kong, then Beijing, down to Singapore, Shanghai via Bangkok, across the Russia’s to Helsinki, London, New York and finally to the back of beyond…Vancouver. We decided that we would accomplish all of this in 30 days. The confluence of time and budget were perfect but proposed certain limitations. We would be traveling on Air Miles , most accumulated from previous trips. The flights we booked and the hotels we stayed in had to be carefully picked as part of the ‘One World Alliance’ so that we could take full advantage of the discounts offered.

Day one was a flurry of activity, I was as giddy as a school girl skipping along on a summers day. This was the culmination of a lifetime of desire. My logistics coordinator and chief strategist had booked us on a flight leaving Vancouver at 10:00 PM Pacific Coast Time. This was designed to get us into Hong Kong with plenty of time to drop our bags at our favorite hotel, the Nathan, suitably named, on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon and be in time for a great seafood meal under the stars at the restaurant nexus in the middle of the Temple Street market.

The plan worked out perfectly. The following morning, after a Melatonin induced sleep for jet-lag we hit the early morning dim sum tables in Wan Chai on  Hong Kong island and then sped out to Mong Kok for some quick shopping. We knew HK well enough to have decided to spend an extra day in Beijing instead of hanging around. Chep Lap Kok  airport is only a short cab ride away. Off to Beijing.

Patricia had got a fantastic offer from The Wangfujing Hilton in Beijing on a three night stay. I was impressed by the luxury our budget had been able to buy us. Wangfujing District is central to most of the walking tours that fill central Beijing with options. We decided against the expensive tourist trap called the Great Wall and decided to spend our time with the people of Beijing. We found the famous Silk Road markets to be extensive, the food far too laden with MSG to be healthy and the Forbidden City so fantastic that we spent two full days wandering around like two dazed aliens pumped up on some kind of happy serum.

Singapore is an old favorite. It is a layer cake city, one above ground and one below, each equally as packed with things to do and see as the other. The super humid ground level Singapore is of course incredibly beautiful. The sea wall allows people to enjoy the entire city scape while dining al fresco under the stars while listening to free concerts or watching international street performers entertain the crowds. It is of course , very hot and humid.

But there is nothing like the Singapore experience of taking a tin plate of steaming fresh food from Smugglers Cove or Clark Quay and eating under the view of the famous Merlion water sculpture, the city line and now the new Marina Bay casino with it’s roof designed to resemble an ancient Arab Dhow plying the trade routes which made Singapore what it is. I stayed across the street from the Esplanade at the Mandarin Oriental to luxuriate in their infinity pool and to relive the famous breakfast spread.


The underground level of Singapore takes many first time visitors by surprise. In air conditioned comfort it is possible to commute from one side of the city to the other through and underground shopping concourse the likes of no Canadian city has envisioned. Singapore is also a city of neighborhoods. The Indian district centered on Serangoon Road host some of the finest Indian cuisine in Asia. Try the Masala Dosa.

Bangkok is a second home to Pat and I. We would never fly to Asia without staying for a few nights. For this very short visit we stayed in Bang Rak at the Best Western affiliate. The area gives you excellent access to the Chao Phraya river transportation and other transport options, like the Skytrain, to whisk you all over the city in air conditioned style. One train will take you north to Chat a Chak , or JJ market as its called locally.

This fantastic open air retail carnival offers one stop shopping for everything made in Thailand. Bangkok is an international design center and an array of clothing seldom seen in the west can be had for very reasonable prices…quickly. I love BKK for the food and Pat buys eyeglasses  because they are six times cheaper than in Vancouver for styles ten years in advance…’nuff said. Bangkok is a shoppers paradise.

A pollution warning over Shanghai caused us to change our plans at the last minute. We saw why when we landed in Shanghai , the entire city had become enveloped in ‘Brown Cloud’, a recent phenomenon in China where smog is so thick that the levels of toxic particulate in the air become ‘officially’ dangerous to your health. This is a good lesson about traveling anywhere, be flexible and ready for change. We didn’t mind missing Shanghai, it had been one of those ‘new ground’ choices and now we got to reschedule our time in places that meant much more to us.

I was fixated for 15 hours the entire time we flew over Russia. The geography is stunning. I became ‘the leaning man’ on the emergency door beside the rear washrooms, an unmoving sculpture with my face pressed against the double pane of plexiglass looking out at the scenery. Every once in a while the topography would change and I would rush back top my seat and click on the flight map to see which country and mountain range we were passing over. I felt childish, as if I were Marco Polo retracing the Silk Road east to west.

Our destination was Helsinki, Finland, a country we had visited previously and had fallen in love with. Pat and I had sworn to return and travel into the interior to discover the rue face of the Finnish people. The capital Helsinki had been built by an occupation force of Russians and Swedes. The Finnish soul was represented inland we had been told. Finland is an entirely under rated and under visited country.

By nature it has it’s solitudes and it is up to the visitor to discover Finland on it’s own terms.From the tropical heat of South East Asia we landed in Helsinki and it was snowing. We’d packed for this. Like the Boy Scouts, a good traveler is prepared. Our immediate destination in Finland after a jet lag rest in Helsinki was the northern resort town of Levi where were treated to reindeer tethered outside out window and Patricia getting her first case of frostbite. My camera batteries had to be specially adapted to the the polar freeze…what fun! Next we would train to Tempere, the second city of Finland.

London greeted us in the form of our friend ‘Ginger’, a cabbie we always call when we visit. He has ‘the knowledge’ and always knows the most interesting ways to Camden Town where we call home when here. There is no place more characteristically British than Camden Town, or should I say that Camden is more like a caricature than a true representation.  Either way, we love this microcosm of English life. Camden is ‘in the moment’ as they say. Wildly fashionable and derelict in the same moment. The High Street is lined with eccentricities that the average Canadian can’t imagine.

The restaurants and museums of London are truly spectacular. Most grand entertainment is free if you are a gallery, park and museum bug as I am. This trip I trod along the foot path beside the Camden Canal that leads to the London Zoo. I had always wanted to see this first in the world Victorian marvel.


I was getting settled in and headed out to Marks and Spencer for more Cornish Cruncher cheese and Hot Chocolate sticks when Patricia reminded me that we would be leaving for New York in the morning. “Anything you buy,” she said, “Is going to have to be eaten between here and there”. I love Cornish Cruncher more than I need sleep so we dined on this delightful specialty into the wee hours of the morning. I’m glad the Americans won’t let me bring any cheese into the country. All the more for me.

Flying into New York is a process, not an event. The security has become onerous. I am an extreme bug-a- phobe and ‘The Big Apple’ is suffering an infestation of bedbugs in every star of accommodation. I chose to stay a half hour away in the AKA White Plains suites which had not had a single reported instance. The quaint town is on the rail line direct to grand Central Station, an easy ride from our hotel.

Manhattan is timeless, we walked the chilly streets downtown towards Washington Square and Greenwich Village for coffee and the street life. Just for fun we visited the Guggenheim in the afternoon. A friend invited us for dinner in Chinatown and we finished with desert at the McDonald’s Time Square to catch the neon displays still there in an area that has transformed itself.

As we looked out at the garish lights Pat and I admitted to one another at how exhausted we were after an entire month on a high speed gambit around the world. Would we do it again, you bet. And that my friends, is how you write an article about traveling around the world in 2000 words or less. 1989 words.I just made it. Whew, I’m exhausted.

Patricia and I are very near the end of another fantastic journey. After six months headquartered in Bangkok and traveling around Asia we’re at peace with the idea that we will leave for Vancouver in a few days. And what a journey it was….not our first nor our last…but certainly one of the best. Once again we’ve amazed ourselves and proven to our impatient followers that it is entirely possible to pack a simple suitcase and relocate around the world in complete comfort.

We  decided that Canadian winters are impossible to cope with. We’re tropical people at heart. Ski hills and toboggans are of zero interest to us. Short vacations suck, they’re more frustrating than anything. I can’t stand the idea that we should fly half way around the world to lay on a beach for two weeks…I need more…less than six months and you just don’t experience ………’the shift’.

I guess we’re fortunate to live the way we do. It all comes out of years of great personal planning…..choices can be made….we made them. I may not have a leased Escalade in the driveway….but I have some great stories…a sunny disposition…..and a great zebra stripe across my ass that makes me smile every morning remembering how it got there.

Another successful snowbird mission accomplished…sad to leave so many new friends behind. Bangkok has again provided us with a home. Of course we’ll come back soon…we’re never away for long….the city’s forever in our hearts. ‘Things’ have been piling up on our desk at home…again..the product of many long term plans. Our son’s convocation from UNI is a big one…..many administrative features to our lives need direct contact. There are some things that can’t be done by remote.

I have a big stopwatch n my head…it will start to count down the minute we leave here. The next six months will be a flurry of activity revolving around planning our next winter away.



I woke up this morning wanting to be more inspired. I’m past the stage where I seek any commercial or material benefit from my existential relationship with  the world. Learning any more practical skill sets or time at formal schooling is just…well….impractical. I want to exist as an impressionist painting, an image of raw emotion and none of the pretense .

Aging is like donning a mask , the world becomes a costume ball where you become unrecognizable  while your mask implies who you present yourself to be as opposed to who you really are. I’m kind of on my own at this juncture. I don’t usually listen or read while I’m creating. I wouldn’t want the accidental spillover of another artists imagery to be mingled with my own.

There’s never an excuse for plagiarism . Either you find your  muse or get out of the business. This morning , I needed something to get me started, coffee and cigarettes are  behind me. Hemingway used the limitations of a blinding hangover to write one perfect paragraph each morning . I keep an eccentric collection of objects and images on my writing desk. My kids work makes me happy, happiness is a good place to look for inspiration.

I turned to YouTube and dialed up a dead man, Johnny Cash. ‘Hurt’ is one of the best songs he ever wrote. The medium seemed to know what I needed  queued  ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, classic Bob Dylan.

I knew the words so well that I wasn’t listening to Bob’s tinny voice but rather floating in a miasma of memories and impressions of the times and context in which he he sang that song. I typed in Hallelujah’ when I anticipated the last refrain ‘ how does it feel, to be on your own, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone, and felt myself slide into Jeff Buckley’s mystical vision of Leonard Cohen s ethereal poetry when the track began and Jeff strummed that perfect chord that David played to amuse the Lord.

I was so far down the rabbit hole in my mind that only another of Leonard’s rambling secrets could show me the way forward. I tickled ‘Suzanne’ across my keyboard and let her ‘feed me tea and oranges that came all the way from China, while she touched my perfect body with her mind. I don’t mind admitting that I love Leonard Cohen deeply. At my age, embarrassment  is no longer a factor.

I started  the day seeking solace from myself in the hopes that my muse would take me on a flyer. The tricks I’d played on my mind were like slow and deliberate foreplay with a lover. The emotional river within  began to flow . YouTube faded from my consciousness as I raised my eyes to the rising sun. The room around me disappeared, I was left alone to fly with my muse. Let the days creative writing exercise begin.

On a recent trip to Europe I was impressed at how established the bicycle was in the everyday lives of people. So much so that these innocuous vehicles are often left by the side of the road in stacks unused as viable community conveyances. One of the things that stops people from using bicycles in Canada for many months a year is the inclement weather. I found that in Europe that this impediment is not universal. There are instances of people using bicycles in every weather, even in the snow. I remember an interview with Bob Dylan where he advised us to stop talking for a second and observe the street corner we were on, “Because we might never be here again”. Those words stuck with me and I try to remain observant of every detail in my daily life, taking nothing for granted. Life is a gift, don’t deny it.

Tempere Finland

the timeless streets of Paris

Tallinn Estonia

Helsinki Finland

Brussels Belgium

Amsterdam Netherlands

another ‘Bridge of Sighs’



on the sixth day we were rising

from the dream that we’d been living

as if hiding under water

blue sky above our heads

while we languished

in laughter and innocence

i broke the surface first and gasped

you came struggling after

our minds had traveled

so very far from here

i fell from my cloud to the ground

you were near impossible to recognize

a face renewed by natural magic

i remembered that disaster

we’d left behind

and wanted to keep it secret

but here it was again

standing on it’s hind legs crowing

breaking dawn before the light

that raucous howling of the other side

both of us  tender in the arms of our rebirth

stripped and bear by conscious calling

the fifth day was a call to arms

we’ have to make ourselves ready for battle

it seemed as if the time we’d lost had furled our fierce  banner

weakness could lead to our undoing

like an engine gaining speed

the clock began to race and flex

build strength towards a time when we would enter

that other time and place

ready or not

the realization hit that we couldn’t stay here

the past had discovered our weakness

if the fourth day was any measure

fear set in

each sunrise once adored

awakened me with  burning  skin

that i’d mistaken for a caress

not so long ago

inconstant friend i wonder out loud

i don’t care what you say

three days is not enough

i hadn’t tested gravity and felt unsure

i’m feeling weak kneed and afraid

of the juggernaut running at me

the world where i come has promised

that it would rather kill me

than set me free

what precedent would that set for the slaves

on day two I  admitted

that i would have to fight against my fears

no matter what the consequence

what was i to do

when i no longer had the moon  to guide my dreams

the sun shone as i awoke the final day

as if to mock me

i thought i had become one with this

i saw they’d get along without me

i felt cast off

as this wisp of a world swirled around

between two worlds

held in jealousy and covetous contempt by those i’d left behind

shunned by those i was leaving

as if i was abandoning the things we’d so carefully built

had i been such an inconstant friend

to the river that flowed above my head

while i swam in distant waters

foolish in my attempted to thwart my fate

suddenly i was in the air

a prisoner of my birth

of my mind and cultured ways

to trample through another year

by counting down the days.

Many Canadians, myself included, dream  about visiting San Francisco because of the fantastic array of attractions,  as numerous as points of light on a star map. As it is only a short flight two hour flight from my home town of Vancouver I have had the opportunity to visit many times over the years. San Fran is a city of neighborhoods, each a unique patch in this delightful urban tapestry.

On this visit I was on a mission to relive a time when San Francisco was the center of the groovy universe. As a young traveler I had visited San Fran in many disguises, wandering mendicant, guitar troubadour, poet. I  slept on benches, in yippie flops and spent an entire summer residing in Golden Gate Park at the end of Haight Street. In 1968 and ’69 there were so many people making love openly in the grass that you had to wind around the ecstatic bodies of balling freaks.

In the psychedelic Haight – Ashbury District,  a single  famous street corner at Haight Street and Ashbury was where  two dimensions intersected to open a new but sadly short lived universe for a generation of people between the ages of zero and twenty something who became known as ‘the hippies’ . I’m grown up now, no more flowers in my hair, patchouli oil , buckskin jackets or saying ‘Right On’ , ‘Far out’ and ‘Groovy’ in every sentence. It didn’t matter why, I was out to discover San Francisco again, a bit more comfortably this time.

The setting of this magnificent city in the geography of Northern California is a stunning act of nature. The deep water entrance to the harbour has been mastered by a world renowned landmark, The Golden Gate Bridge, connecting the city of San Francisco to the bedroom community of Oakland. Golden Gate Park at the foot of the bridge should be a ‘must see’ stop on anyone’s visit to ‘the city on the bay’.

It’s easily accessed by public transportation , ask any driver, they’re helpful. The civil war outpost Fort Point under the bridge still points it’s cannon towards the Pacific Ocean in symbolic  defense of liberty. A scenic seawall along the coast line reveals big wave surfers in action and delicate indigenous plants.

On my most recent trip I chose to stay at the Nikko Hotel, right downtown close to Union Square. I like to be close to the center of things when I’m only going to be in town for a short visit. The Nikko is on Mason Street, two blocks from the historical heart of the city, Union Square. This is a lively area day or night. It was once quite rough, but not anymore. Don’t let an old story dissuade you from venturing out. There are some panhandlers left over, yes, but there are more street performers than anything these days. In the evenings I have seen entire rock bands set up on a street corner and wow the tourist crowd for tips.

Another reason to stay downtown is the fact that you’ll be the hub at the center of a wheel. Travel in any direction along a spoke and you’re headed towards something famous , distinct, or both. My direction on the first morning was straight to Union Squares surrounding streets of Powell , Geary and Post. These streets are shoulder to shoulder with great coffee  cafe’s, some extensions of major hotels , some individually owned bistro’s.  Coffee and a light breakfast is served at a sidewalk table for people on their way to work and the tourist alike. I like to watch the morning action of a busy city. My choice of cheese croissant and a tall mocha latte at a sun kissed ‘mom and pop’  brasserie seemed just perfect.

Come to any major US city from Canada and one of the first things you notice is that there are lot more shopping outlets . There are hundreds of franchises lining the streets and mall concourses that have never been heard of on the retail scene north of the border. I like to walk through Macy’s on Market Street when I get the chance. It’s a holiday in itself.

Inside any Macy’s they have hundreds of individual manufacturers represented in kiosk style outlets, some  very fancy and  expensive. The store was on my way and I ‘popped in’ for a visit. I chose to walk down Powell Street so that I could take a few pictures of the famous Cable Car round-about at Powell and Market.

It’s a popular image for people waiting to travel the opposite direction by Cable car after the two conductors muscle the cars around on the spinning platform marking ‘the end of the line’. From here I would walk down to the scenic waterfront Embarcadero where the commuter ferries to Oakland dock and disgorge passengers into the business district.

San Francisco is a great walking city, lots of variety, from flat to gradual rise with some challenging hills to climb if you choose the right streets. I decided that today would be a street photo day and I had worn my comfortable shoes. If you forget, there is an incredible Shoe Warehouse outlet beside Forever Twenty One on the Cable Car Station corner than has to be 40,000 square feet on three levels of shoes. If you’re a ‘shoe horse’ this may be an overload experience , bring a friend to guide you home.

I was lucky today, things were going my way. I walked through a crowd of bike couriers at the foot of a commercial building and chanced to engage a few in conversation. One  perk about being a travel writer is that once you identify yourself as such people get talkative and interested in your work. I told them about my plan to circumnavigate an old route I had taken in the late 1960’s when  San Francisco was still the Hippie Kingdom. “That’s a lot to take in all in a day,” it was suggested. My new guides and resident experts suggested I add some efficiencies into my game plan and schooled me in the new  Bay Area Rapid Transit system, BART for short. I’m glad I got the lesson.

Instead of walking the entire distance, I chose the highlights as suggested by the bikey’s. From the Embarcadero I hopped the tram towards Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s hard not to feel like a kid again when a jolly tram conductor is ringing a jingling brass bell and you’re hanging out the door of a rattling orange time machine full of happy people. Between the warehouse units along the water I got my first glimpse of the island of Alcatraz, famous as a prison and now a famous landmark for visitors.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a collection of piers and an aquatic park at the end of the Embarcadero Boulevard. My favorite stop has always been the Pier 39 mob scene of Sea Lions lolling in the sun on the floating gangways. The big beasts stink, bark and cavort the day away much to the delight of everyone. The food outlets are extensive and I opted for a plate of fresh crispy calamari to eat on a bench to watch the crowd. Buskers and artists add to the convivial and totally photogenic atmosphere.

I decided to walk up Grant Street which would take me uphill past  Coit Tower and shady Washington Square and the lovely cathedral there. This is one of those classic hill streets where colourful  town homes shoulder each other distinctly on the steep inclination. To my right I could see the famous zig zag Lombard Street. I was headed towards Chinatown. This route would take me through Italian inspired North Beach and bring the world famously pointed spear that is the  Transamerica Tower into view as I crested the rise of Nob Hill.

Jack Kerouac infamously held court here and has an alley named after him. As a writer I can’t resist an homage whenever possible. As it was lunch time and I’d worked up an appetite climbing the hill I decided to entertain a Chinese meal at a busy restaurant on Grant Street.

My smattering of Cantonese caused quite a stir. I had one of the best lunches of Char Sui, Gai Lan and Rice I have ever. In the same street I found a lady crowded tea/shop bakery and picked up a box of my favorites to savor later in the room. Gai Mei Bau, a coconut paste filled sweet bread, Char Sui Bau, a spicy meat paste baked treasure and several Dan Tat, the egg tart that can only be described as heavenly.

I took the shortcut under the mountain my biker friends had recommended through the Stockton Tunnel back into downtown. I wanted to catch the bus across town towards ‘The Haight’. This is an interesting  route because it takes a traveler through all the distinct ethnic neighbors that divide San Francisco into a patchwork quilt. The bus becomes like a mini United nations after passing through several. It took twenty minutes before my driver gave me the signal. I stepped off onto the lowers steps at the Grand Temple of the Hippy Kingdom, the foot of Haight Street. Walking up the rise was like reliving my youth, I was transported as I ascended this personal Stairway to Heaven.

Of course almost nothing ever stays the same. It was all just a memory. Shopkeepers had banded together to keep the vibe rolling in order to sell poster reproductions and T-shirts. It’s still cool though, but much quieter than the old days. I popped into the new McDonald’s for some coffee and reflection. What did you expect? I asked myself the same thing. Across the street the tunnel entrance to the park beckoned. A kid was banging away at a timbale inside for the acoustics and sort of magnetized me in that direction. I wasn’t half way through when an itchy straggler sidled up and whispered, “Do want to buy some grass”. Just like the old days. There are no hippies balling in the grass these days. Just a beautiful sunny expanse of lawn well patrolled by police  on ATV’s.

‘It’s all so beautiful’, are the words of a one hit wonder from back in the day. And it really was, but like so many precious memories they fade with time and reliving them is impossible. The best thing is too have a great life now and make lasting memories today. I walked away from my 1969 bubble world quite happy in the knowledge that I ‘d seen it at it’s best.

My next stop would be to once again commune with the Pacific Ocean, a few short minutes away, in the town of Ocean Beach. The Grand Highway along the sandy beach is a dreamscape of drifting dunes , floating gulls and the eternal Pacific.

As I sat in the sand  atop a soft dune I contemplated the world behind me. The Ocean is the metronome of all things living. The constant sound of  long waves crashing on the shoreline has a way of peeling  the stress  from anyone who opens their heart and mind to the natural world. I thought about my day in San Francisco, truly one of the worlds great cities. I saw that it is a place of renewal and not just a monument to the past. I felt satisfied to have found my place in the story of San Francisco and maybe you will too.

I returned to my hotel to share my little box of bakery delights with Patricia. I’d had a dreamy day. I’d lived a dual life in a single journey of rediscovery. On the way back I chanced upon a Thai restaurant which to my noses surprise was serving exactly authentic Thai food. By some miracle of logistics they had got hold of the especially rare ingredients that make Thai food in Thailand an experience worth flying fifteen hours for. How they’d traveled fresh so far from the Kingdom I don’t know. It was a San Francisco miracle. Pat and I hurried back there for dinner in case it was just a temporary mirage. We decided during the meal that the King of Thai restaurant on Farrel Street was  a new point of light in San Francisco’s pantheon of stars.

lord, give me just two words

so that i can bring meaning to my life

words that bring peace

and reconciliation

words that make me strong

in the face of the furious wind

so that i can stand like a warrior

with your words in either hand

a sword and a lance

to be what i am

with just two words

against all odds

let these words mean everything

leaving no misinterpretation

no misunderstanding

as to my intention

just  and unadulterated truth

as it was meant to be uttered

challenge me with the gravity of two words alone

anchored in the history of all things

that i may speak them when all else fails

let no one deny

or let my speech falter

when i say

i believe