Monday, March 30, 2015

Photo Essay: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Melbourne was a city I had wanted to visit since I became a conscious being. As a child, I was fascinated by Australia because I think I had some delusion that, due to its geographic placement, everything was opposite there. In Melbourne in particular, what I found when I arrived was not the opposite of Canada, but rather many of the elements that make me adore Toronto so much. It's a clean, vibrant city with a clear identity and seemingly limitless possibility. Like Toronto, it seemed to also be open-minded and welcoming, as evidenced by innumerable thriving sub-cultures in Melbourne, such as the street art scene. Melbourne felt so comfortable and familiar, that coming here was almost like coming home for me.

Also, coming from Istanbul, I was struck by how green the city was. In an urban center I can't ever recall seeing so many trees, public spaces with flowers, parks, and even well maintained beaches. Melbourne just clearly does so many things right when it comes to urban planning. It's no wonder that it regularly tops the charts of any international survey looking at the livability of cities.

I loved this city in February, and I love it now. I would, in a heartbeat, move to Melbourne and start a life there (with Bri's loving approval, of course.) That's the kind of love I developed for this city in such a short time period.

I developed much of this love through wandering, so, in an attempt to replicate that, I'll be framing this post as a photo essay, to allow you to simply see the things that I saw, and decide if it's a place you could love as well.

One day I hope to return to this city, so I can really do it justice. I've catalogued this city in my mind among a few other of my favourites, namely Kyoto, Kuala Lumpur, Vienna and Toronto (I'm biased). And for me, that's some serious company.

Until next time,


Thursday, March 26, 2015

7 Ways Road Trips are the Best Way to Travel

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

It's only fitting to start this post with such a picture because I'm nothing short of in love with road trips. There's just something about being behind the wheel of a car in another country that really gets my engine going (alright, no more car jokes.) It can be a tad expensive, yes, and dealing with the insurance packages can be a nightmare, sure - but that small touch of bureaucracy pales in comparison to the joys of having the keys to your very own vehicle in a foreign nation, whether it's economy class or not.

My love of "the road trip" was born on the North American roads, but I'll be damned if that love hasn't always travelled with me.

Here are seven ways that I feel the road trip just can't be beat. Seven seems like a nice, arbitrary number.

1) The Freedom

When you're gazing out the window of your less than comfortable bus and you watch a quaint village roll on by, all you can do is wonder what it would have been like to visit. When you're in your own car, you visit. It becomes a sort of game, you start to ask yourself, is that enticing enough to stop for? No, well how about that?

It's a wonderful way to live when you literally don't know where you'll be in 15 minutes. Take for example, the spontaneous stop Bri and I made in Radovljica, Slovenia. Yeah, we hadn't heard of it either. 

2) It's a Portable Hotel

It's not a five star hotel, and, more than likely it's not even a one star hotel, but you can sleep in it. I learned this lesson with Thevishka, Neil, and Grant while road tripping from Oslo to Stavanger in Norway. When we arrived in Stavanger, we just sort of parked beside a park, and then, lights out.

I'm not sure I would sleep 4 people in a Prius again, but we did do it.

Funny enough, on this particular evening I jolted in my sleep and cracked the windshield with my big toe. How does that even happen, right?

3) You Can Stop at the Strangest Music Stores Possible...

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a few great friends and I found an absolute gem. A Bosnian rapper, or something like that, by the name of...

He exists, though...

4) The Views 

I'm not sure I need to say more here. A car affords you a beautiful opportunity to experience views that you may never otherwise be able to appreciate. 

The Julian Alps, Austria

Somewhere, Croatia

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

5) The Possibilities

Anything can happen, anything. 

In the back of pickup truck on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.

6) The Bonding

When you're packed into confined quarters with a handful of other people for long, extended periods, you're going to get to know each other, for better or worse. Luckily, most of my experiences have led me to believe it's for the better. Everyone shares their music, their useless trivia, and their stories. Not to mention, when you're together with people for such long, in sometimes stressful stretches, you get to see many sides of a person, whether they want you to or not. More often than not, I find it creates a pretty unbreakable bond. At the very least, you'll have a handful of inside jokes that will stay with you until the end of your days. 

Toronto, Ontario --> Manchester, Tennessee - that's why.

It's a road trip, after all.


7) Opportunities for Heroism

Something always goes wrong on a road trip, always, but it's the story of how someone steps up to the plate to fix that problem that defines the trip. You can be that person, but only if you're on a road trip, so say yes to the next available road trip, and save the day. 

In the pouring rain, my good friend Grant changes a flat in Philly while Bri holds an umbrella. Champions.

My trunk breaks, and I find bungee chords in a gas station in Michigan. They're the hero.


Now, my reasons may not have fully won you over, but let me say it plainly, when I think about all the experiences I've had in my life (travel or otherwise), the road trips I've taken are pretty high up the list. 

The best moment of the trip for me is always pealing out of the driveway or parking spot and heading straight into the unknown. But, then again, arriving at your final destination with the trip's events firmly lodged in your memory isn't half bad either. Because, undoubtedly, those memories will have been well worth the rental price. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Great Barrier Reef (Cairns, Australia)

It's safe to say that the Great Barrier Reef finds a place onto most traveller's bucket lists, and perhaps a fair portion of people who don't even particularly like travel. It's one of those places that you accidentally come across when you're a kid, and know, just by its name that it must be something special. And, as with many childhood assumptions based on basically nothing, it was, somehow, correct.

The decision to head to Australia stemmed from the fact that my brother, Dave, lives in Sydney, and I don't think the promise of summer was too much of a deterrent for Bri and I either, especially considering the surprisingly cold Istanbul winter this year. We spoke with Dave a bit before takeoff and decided we could make the trek from Sydney to Cairns (about 3 hours by flight and very reasonably priced on Jetstar or Virgin Australia)  to catch a glimpse of the Great Barrier Reef during our short stint in Australia. The primary purpose of the trip to Australia was to reunite with my brother, who is arguably my favourite person on earth, but even he was telling us to catch a flight to Cairns, despite the fact that he would have to stay in Sydney for work. Well, we figured, it must be worth it.

Another recommendation that my brother made was to take the day tour of the Reef with Reef Trip. Since we were short on time, he thought it was a good company that did a quality job packing in the essence of the Reef in a day, and, for a very reasonable price. All things considered, he was really pretty spot on with that assertion. If you're looking for a longer trip, they've got you covered as well with Reef Encounter, and if I had had the time, I would have certainly done an overnight trip with them.

And so, in early February, we headed down to the harbour to catch our early morning boat for our Great Barrier Reef Cruise, Reef Experience, which offered both snorkelling and diving. Admittedly, they started off on the right foot, serving up piles of egg and bacon sandwiches, and the views on the way out to our first snorkel/dive spot weren't bad either. Not to mention, the second floor deck also served as a mobile tanning salon for all on board, none of which seemed to be paler than me.

Fast forward through a safety talk from a pleasant, comical Aussie chap and we arrived at our first dive spot.

We rented an underwater camera for the day, one of many extras offered on the trip. As we didn't have all that much extra cash floating around, this is one of the only extras we indulged in, and I would say it was worth the price tag overall. It was less than $50, and you could have the photos thrown onto a CD or keep the SD card at the end. Anyway, Bri had the camera on her dive first time around. Seeing as it was her first dive ever, she was pretty focused on surviving, but she did manage to snap a few pics along the way.

A little tired from combatting the wavy waters, we both rendezvoused back at the ship for lunch. Lunch, unexpectedly, was a veritable buffet of 5 different salads with three different choices of barbecued meat alongside it. I, of course, opted to try everything, in the best interest of preserving my energy, of course. Nothing to do with my eating habits, or my gluttonous tendencies or anything of that nature.

We cruised along to another spot after lunch, which I felt was much better than the first. Reef Trip offered the option to dive again for an additional fee, but Bri and I chose to snorkel together and see what we could find on our own. In retrospect, it was certainly the right choice for us. The reefs in that area were so close to the surface that, in some parts, you'd have to float along and hold perfectly still as to not interrupt anything below. We mostly got photos of the reef itself, but we were certainly surrounded by fish and sea life galore. A few of the shots below were actually taken by the photographer for Reef Trip, who regularly goes around and snaps photos of participants with a camera that looks like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If I do go back to the Great Barrier Reef, I would love to spend a few days and nights exploring all that there is to see, but, for now, I am perfectly satisfied with the notion that I've been there with my better half, and that we'll always have these dear memories. I can already imagine many of these photos adorning walls of our future apartments and houses in destinations I'm yet unaware of. And, I'll recall, politely, that my childhood intuitions couldn't have been more correct.