Thursday, April 12, 2012

20 Countries

Friends back home have introduced me as a world traveller. I recall one person telling people that I have "been everywhere." This is a statement I have never agreed with, and who knows if I ever will.

I have in the past compared myself and my travelling to Socrates quest for wisdom: The more you know, the more you realize you know nothing. In the same way, the more I travel, the more I realize I have not travelled at all.

I have met several people along the way who have seemed to travel a lot more than I have, seen a lot more than I have and done a lot more than I have. I am always hearing about experiences that I have never done. Some I have never even heard of anyone doing.

To put it further into perspective, I have seen 20 countries or roughly 10% of the world's countries. This is more than a failing grade, especially when you consider how little I have seen of some of these countries. The following is an alphabetical list of the countries I have been to and a brief description of what I have done there. I could have spent as little time there as a few hours to as much time as 23 years.

(Just to note, I have not counted places I have spent layovers in an airport in the 20. These places would be China, Japan, Iceland, Qatar and Turkey)

Australia: I lived here for 9 months in 2009. I saw 4 states, Queensland, New South Wales, Southern Australia and Victoria. Regrettably, I never made it to Ayers Rock, one of the most popular things to see.

Austria: When in Munich (summer 2010) I took a train to Salzberg Austria for a few hours. That is all I saw of this country.

Canada: I was born and grew up here. Roughly 23 years but regrettably it has all been spent in one province. Canada is so big I am ashamed that I have only been to one province. The rest of Canada thinks people from Ontario are self centred and I do not help that stereotype.

Czech Republic: I went to Prague in the summer of 2010 and really enjoyed the city. I decided I must return to the country to see some ice hockey and I did just that in January of 2012.

Denmark: While in Australia I lived with several Danish people and in the Summer of 2010 I had the chance to visit a couple of them.

Dominican Republic: This was my first real 'travel' experience in May 2006. I use the word travel very loosely here as I went to a resort for a wedding and spent the majority of the time on the resort. I did do some 4 wheeling through a jungle however.

Egypt: Christmas 2011 was spent in Egypt over the course of a long weekend. I saw some of the ancient Pyramids, the Spynx and the Greek inspired city of Alexandria.

Finland: During my winter break of 2012 I went on a quest to see some European hockey and I saw 2 games while in Finland. I spent most of my time in the cities of Tampere and Helsinki

France: In Australia I lived with some fantastic French people whom I have visited on a couple of occasions. The first was the summer of 2010 when I also taught ESL at a camp for a month near Mount St Michael. I then spent time in Paris and the South of France during January and February of 2012.

Germany: I began my travel to Germany in Berlin in the summer of 2010. I loved the city and decided to try the city of Munich out later in the same summer. Germany and my love of history mixed well together.

Italy: I spent a few days in Italy at the end of the 2010 summer, the majority of the time spent in Rome. I woke up in Rome on my 25th birthday and took a train to Pisa for the afternoon and then headed to Florence. I had gelatto wherever I could get it (which was everywhere). 

S. Korea: I spent exactly one year there and have 2 regrets. That I didn't become a black belt in Hapkido while I was there and that I never made it to the beautiful (so I've heard) island of Jeju.

Kuwait: This is where I currently reside. I have been here for about 7 months. It is giving me a chance to develop professionally in the teaching profession, pay back some student debt and travel.

Netherlands: I spent 3 days in Amsterdam being mesmerized by the canals and greenery of the city. The coffee shops and red light district were also interesting to see.

Sri Lanka: In November of 2011 I spent a week here, soaking in the sun and the great Sri Lankan hospitality. While there I had a dream of being a tuk tuk driver in the country for a little while.

Sweden: My second stop in Scandinavia occurred in February 2012. I only spent time in Stockholm and it reminded me of New York City.

Switzerland: The Swiss alps (visited in the summer of 2010) may have been the most peaceful place I have ever been. That was my only true exposure to the mountain life.

Thailand: While living in Korea I went on vacation to Thailand. I spent a night in Bangkok before I went to one of the islands (Ko Samui). It had a lot of potential, unfortunately it rained almost the whole time I was there.

United States: A lot of my exposure to the USA has been on days trips to the ball parks in Detroit Michigan (way too many to count to both the former Tiger Stadium and the current Commerica Park). I have went on a couple trips to New York City as well as a couple night trips to Buffalo and one trip to Sandusky Ohio.

Vatican City: Perhaps the only country I can say I have seen everything in. I found the Sistine Chapel and the stories of Michelangelo among the top things I have learned about.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


 Often when I travel I spend the majority of my time with friends, others who are traveling or by myself. Generally I don't typically spend a lot of time with the locals. My only interactions with them is when I am purchasing a service, or inevitably get lost and need to ask for directions.

Finland was different from my 'regular' travel experiences. I actually spent all my time with people from Finland. I helped celebrate one guys birthday one night so was with about 5 other Finnish people. One of my first questions was if everyone in Finland could speak such English. One girl responded that she could not speak good English, although I still have trouble believing that. I was able to have a conversation with her relatively problem free. One of the first questions I was asked was if I had Sauna.

I stayed the majority of my time in the small city of Tampere. I regretfully did not spend a lot of time outdoors in the city as the temperature was -20 for most of the time I was there. Basically the only time I went outside was to get food or to go somewhere else. I did not roam around the streets, which is how I typically travel.

That isn't to say I didn't try to wander, the temperature indoors just won me over. The first time I went out the plan was to walk the streets, get some food and walk the streets a little more. I walked for 2 minutes, and not only did I change my plan about walking around I also broke my new years resolution and ate at McDonald's. It was so cold that I decided to go to the first easy place I saw to get out of the frigid temperatures!
I did manage to get to an observation tower where I was able to see the whole city and that is where the pictures come from. It actually felt slightly good to be in this wintry atmosphere--although the feeling was very brief--because it reminded me of home.

The first meal I had was pizza. I had the Finlander, it had different kinds of cheese on it and reindeer meat. It was fantastic.

I went to the Finnish hockey hall of fame in Tamperes as well. It featured some of Finland's--and the world's--most talented hockey players, as well as the history of how hockey was introduced to Finland. I think the most interesting thing I learned was the trophy that the Finnish play for is the Canada cup because it was given to them as a gift from Canada.

After the outdoor hockey game in Helsinki it was finally time to try Finnish Sauna. I was told there are over 2 million saunas in the country and only about 5 million people, so roughly for every 2 people there is a sauna. I have done a sauna before, in Korea, but that was a large public one. In Finland, it was a private sauna and it was quite hot. Once we could no longer take the heat we ran into the backyard and jumped into the snow, then warmed ourselves in the sauna once again.

I was a little skeptical about jumping naked into the snow, but the others were doing it so I decided it was a cultural must. They told me not to worry there was a large fence in their backyard so the neighbours couldn't see us. Then they told me it was the neighbours who built the fence, insinuating that the fence was erected because of them rolling around in the snow naked.

I certainly enjoyed the Finnish sense of humour.