As I took hold of my high school diploma, looking out at my friends and family, it seemed that the entire world was about to be mine for the taking. I was excited and eager to leave high school behind. What I was most looking forward to was my “grad trip.” A traditional trip that graduates take with some of their closest friends. For me, that was Hawaii, (exotic I know), with 11 of my best friends.
While there, several excursions stand out to me as the most enjoyable and impactful. The first was a trip to Makai Pier. This remote pier is used for marine research; however, there are several tiny, sandy, secluded beaches on each side of the dock. This was a refreshing change from the multitude of other beaches we visited, the majority of them packed like sardine cans. The snorkeling off this beach was also superb, with plenty of fish and active corals observable very close to the beach. Because of the secluded nature of the beach, there are no amenities close by, so be sure to bring plenty of food and water based on your predicted length of stay. I would also suggest bringing a beach umbrella (as I did) as there is very little shade close to the water.
Another excursion that stood out to me was our hike up Koko crater railway trail. A very steep, challenging climb, however, the vistas from the top of the mountain are fantastic. It is very easy to distinguish the urban areas of Honolulu from the untouched wildlife sprawling over the rest of the island. The trail is very busy, and the terrain is very uneven, so this hike is for only the most sure-footed of people.
Something to note about both excursions mentioned above, due to their secluded locations, it is suggested that you rent a car to get to these locations. It is possible to access these places via Uber or Lift, however, expect extremely high costs and long wait times for a pickup.
One thing that I brought on my trip that is critical is travel insurance. Being from Canada, I have heard too many stories of individuals being stuck with five-figure hospital bills after a travel-related mishap. I recommend Goose Insurance, as the extremely competitive rates leave more money for exploring, and the ease of in-app insurance policy purchases simplify the pre-travel process. After that, pack the sunscreen!
During the month of November Helsinki has a total of 16 hours of daylight in the whole month! It was ruled by the Swedish for 650 years and then ruled by the Russians for a hundred years. One architect named Engals designed most of the buildings in Helsinki. This beautiful nordic country has the second largest icebreaker fleet second only to Russia. Helsinki has two very interesting churches, the first is a three story wooden sphere and the second (called The Church In The Rock) is built right into the rock!
We sailed in through a beautiful archipelago to enter Stockholm, there are a few cabins on many of the islands. In the archipelago most of the cabins are painted brown for it is the cheapest paint, sometimes if the owner had a very good year of business he would paint the cabin white to show their prosperity. As we were exploring through Stockholm the Swedish guard marched down the sidewalk almost knocking us over! The property tax of an apartment in Stockholm used to be determined by how many windows you had, so poorer people would paint on windows hoping that future generations would have enough money to install real windows.
The beautiful city of Rostock, Germany was the last stop on our cruise. Rostock was a walled town but now only the gates and a few pieces of the wall remain.The tallest gate is the Kropelin Gate at 54 meters high! Rostock is a very beautiful city with many scenic pathways to walk along. As we left the port at dusk we saw the beautiful city of Rostock, golden in the sunset.
During our final two days we explored Copenhagen and it’s beautiful old port with colourful buildings and boats ranging from small dinghies to huge lighthouse boats. One of the most interesting things we did was walk through Christiania, an old abandoned military base that, when initially abandoned got populated with hippies, where there were no rules and they called it the free state. We also visited an amazing candy store which makes designs in their candies, one (apple flavor) had a Danish flag in it!
This has been an amazing trip as we visited some of our past favorite places and found new and amazing ones. We traveled through the heat of the Greek islands and explored Northern Europe under gray rainy skies. Some of my favorite tastes were filo wrapped feta with honey in Naxos, taramasalata in Milos, gyros in Athens, goat in Folegandros, coffee in Naxos, Meatballs in Stockholm, high tea in Oxford, and hotdogs in Copenhagen. Some of my favorite experiences of our trip were Getting stung by a jellyfish in Folegandros, Playing in the giant waves and relaxing in the hammocks on the beach in Naxos and walking on the old Byzantine trail on Paros. What an amazing adventure this has been!!!
We arrived in Oxford and met up with James and Hayley (our cousins) who hosted us and showed us their lovely English town. I was the most surprised that all of the land in Oxford is owned by all the different colleges and you can go all the way from Oxford to Cambridge all on college grounds! I was sorry we had to leave for it was only was a short visit and Oxford is a very interesting city which feels like it has many secrets waiting to be uncovered.
We spent one night in the beautiful northern city of Copenhagen before boarding our 11 day Baltic cruise. We went on an amazing food walking tour where we tasted traditional open faced sandwiches and a delicious Danish hotdog. We also had salty licorice which is very popular and common in Copenhagen but was not very appealing to me. I found Copenhagen very clean and I was looking forward to returning after our cruise.
In Estonia they say that summer is their favourite day of the year for it is almost always raining. On our biking tour we visited the president’s house which is pink! Concealed in the backyard of an abandoned mansion were massive sculptures of Lenin and Stalin from when Estonia was ruled by Russia. I tried a variety of sausages such as: wild boar, deer and my favorite, horse! Every year they have a huge two day singing festival for the people love to sing, and even when they revolted they did it by singing their patriotic songs.
St. Petersburg was our most eastern stop on our trip.The most beautiful building we saw was the Cathedral of Spilled Blood with brightly coloured designs and onion domes all over it. The outside of the Hermitage was surprisingly uninteresting, masking the beauty within. I found it interesting that most things in the Hermitage were copies or original pieces of artwork from western Europe. Our final stop on the tour was to the summer palace of Peter the Great, the fountains are purely gravity run with no electric pump to help it. To get there we took the hydrofoil where the front actually comes out of the water as it goes to the other side of the bay. St. Petersburg was very beautiful but felt un-welcoming and restricted in things you could do, see and learn.
We arrived in Helsinki, Finland on a sunny day, the first for a while. It was a good thing since we went on a walking tour of the old town. Finland was a relatively new country, as it was occupied by the Swedish and then the Russians up until the early twentieth century. The Finns have kept a lot of their Swedish heritage however, and everything from road signs to cereal boxes are printed in both Finnish and Swedish. It was also interesting to observe the architecture in Helsinki, for all of the important buildings were designed by one man, Bjarke Engles.
Our next stop was Stockholm, Sweden, where we went on a food tour to learn more about the country’s culture, and the first thing that was abundantly clear was how multi-national it was. Our tour guide for example was of Russian/Polish descent, but moved to Sweden. Many employees at the places we visited were immigrants from other European countries. The draw for most of these immigrants is the free university tuition. Like Copenhagen, taxes are very high, but through that everyone gets the services they need. My favourite dish on the whole tour were traditional Swedish meatballs, served with potatoes, gravy, and lingonberry sauce, it was delicious.
Life on the cruise ship itself was an experience. We spent many an evening relaxing on our deck watching the sun disappear over the horizon. I also enjoyed the scenic sailing, where we would sit on our deck and watch the shore sail by. My favourite of many “scenic sailings” was through the Swedish archipelagos, a cluster of around 24,000 islands located right outside of Stockholm. It took around 4 hours of sailing through a narrow shipping lane, with small islands on either side of the ship. There were many decks of excitement to be seen, but Ryan and I had a favourite spot which was the ping pong table. We played many rounds of ping pong, and were able to see the views around, often followed by an ice cream!
We finished our cruise back in Copenhagen, Denmark. This gave us a chance to go to all the places we had had to miss visiting earlier. We went on a free walking tour of the city, as well as a walk through Christiania, a tiny “free state” or hippie commune, founded on an abandoned military base island, and run with the ideal of a law-free territory, the only “rules” are no running and no photos. The reason is because Christiania is a haven for marijuana drug dealers to sell their products. Because of this, there are frequent police raids, and people run only during one of these raids. Despite all of this, tourists come from all over the world to see this “social experiment” and to see what a lawless (no taxes, building laws, or education laws) yet peaceful country would be like.
This concludes the end of our travels, at least for the moment. This last trip has been amazing, visiting some old and familiar places, and touring around a whole region that is new to us. I would like to thank my family for taking me on this wonderful experience, it has been a truly unforgettable trip!
We have left the sunny paradise of Greece, and are welcomed into the grey clouded skies of northern Europe. To be fair, when we arrived in Oxford, England, it was warm and sunny, but that did not last long. We explored Oxford with James and Haley (friends), and went into many of the prestigious colleges to find that most of them had trimmed gardens, and large parks behind the large antique buildings. Since one would suppose Oxford to be heavily crowded from the tight streets and small buildings, it was surprising to say the least. Another evident but surprising fact was the installation of the sewer system. Instead of digging down to place the pipes under the streets, they lay them at the original street level, and then raised the street to be one story above the old one. One can see evidence of this by looking into what seems like storm drain grates to see old front doors or windows!
Our next stop was Copenhagen. I did not even need to step out of the airport to notice how it felt like Vancouver! It was clean, peaceful, and tastefully designed. During our visit, we went on a food tour to get a closer look at the culture and history of Denmark. My favourite stop was for these small, open-faced sandwiches, with unique toppings. An example would be a chicken salad, topped with crispy deep fried chicken skin and fried onions. My personal favourite was one with shrimp salad and fresh greens. All of these toppings are on a dense, dark rye bread, which is delicious, and hearty!
We then boarded our cruise, where we have a larger room with a big outside deck, where we enjoyed lots of scenic cruising through fjords and inlets. The first port of call on our cruise was Kiev Germany, and Dad and I took a bus half an hour to see a WWII era U-boat. My first impression was that it was smaller than I expected. It was perhaps 80 feet long, and around 15 feet wide. When we went inside, it was very cramped. At the very rear was the navigations room, followed by barracks, kitchen, bathroom, communications room, engine room, more barracks, and the weapons room in that order. The weapons room was the largest, followed closely by the engine room. It was surreal to see something that most people just read about in books.
Estonia was the next stop, and we booked a bike tour around the city. The best thing about a biking tour is that you can travel a larger distance than a walking tour, while still being able to experience the life of the city. Estonia as a country is very young, as it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991! It in-fact was the first country to break away, starting the fall of the Soviet Union. However, it announced its independence peacefully, without war or bloodshed. On our tour we saw plenty of evidence of Estonia’s former suppressors, with Russian monuments dotting the city. We even went to a quiet area where statues of Lenin and Stalin still lay fallen and scattered around ta field. Estonia was once a strong medieval civilization, with plans to build large walls, with lots of towers and buttresses. This all came to ruins however when they ran out of money and were overrun by neighbouring nations.
St. Petersburg, Russia was different from any place I had been before. While a democracy, it felt like it put up a facade for tourists. We took a private tour to see all the major sights of the city. We started with the Hermitage, a sight to behold. Every room was filled to the brim with priceless works of art, from sculptures to paintings, collectables to suites of armour. It was an amazing experience, walking from room to room, to find works from all of the famous artists, from all corners of the globe. After the Hermitage we visited numerous cathedrals and churches, each looming over the surrounding buildings, all decorated in golden spirals. We also saw a few of the many canals that Peter the Great had made, for he loved Amsterdam, but since he had to rule Russia, he made his own “mini Amsterdam” right in the middle of St. Petersburg. Our last stop was to visit the Summer Palace, Peterhoff the residence of the emperors of Russia in the summer months. It had sprawling gardens filled with trees, bushes, and lots of fountains. The gardens and entrance to the palace itself were full of fountains, and we learned from our tour guide that they are all fed by underground streams, with no water pumps or electric assistance needed! This ended our tour of St. Petersburg, and while we visited some of the most majestic and awe-inspiring places I have ever seen, it felt a little scripted and refined, as if they didn’t want us to see Russia as it really was and, in the end, this detracted from the experience.
Paros is a beautiful island and every morning we went for a hike to explore. My favourite hike was along a one thousand year old Byzantine trail which had originally been paved but now only a few parts are still cobbled for most of the cobble stones have been stolen. The path lead from a port village to the capital of the island. This main town was usually hidden behind hills so that pirates would not be able to see it from the water. It was so beautiful looking back at the fields and ocean as we crested a hill.
After our morning hike I loved jumping in the pool to cool off and then coming out to read. Throughout this trip I am reading the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes which include four novels and five books of short stories (each with about 11 short stories in them), the whole book is about 3,000 pages long. I love reading my book in one of the bean bag chairs by the pool.
We arrived in Mykonos and drove twenty minutes to our hotel which is right on the water. Only a few flights of stairs away there is a private beach which only our hotel and the hotel next to us can use. Above our hotel is an old dirt road which climbs into the rolling hills to the north which is perfect for hiking.
At a beach less than a five minute walk away form our hotel, I found multiple schools of fish as we swam around a rocky point to a little sandy alcove. I love seeing animals roaming around, wild like the fish. I enjoyed seeing all the animals in Greece and I loved all of the islands that we visited and I am sad that we can not visit more.
Ferries in Greece can be, for lack of a better word, hectic. We put our luggage on a platform on the back of the boat and then were hustled up to our seats. It was a fast turn around, but effective and we never lost our luggage. Once we disembarked in Paros, we rented a car (barely big enough to fit us with all our bags) and headed to our hotel. The place where we were staying was beautiful, with a large pool, and the most comfy sun beds I had ever seen. Our days mainly consisted of relaxing at the pool, and magnificent hikes to picturesque views atop large hills. From the tops of said hills, we could see all the neighbouring cities around us, and the bright whitewashed houses stood out against the brown, and green of the surrounding countryside.
We went on a particularly special hike. We started in a small city far off the beaten path, and walked along a trail, with 4 foot tall fences on both sides, and crudely placed paving stones marking the way. This trail was once a bustling main road in ancient times, wagons and donkeys going to the capital of the island, from the biggest fishing village of Paros. The stones were well worn, and where they had been pulled up, the ground was trampled flat and smooth, as tourists still hike the trail frequently today. Perhaps the most unique part of the trail was the fencing on both sides, as it was made completely out of marble. I am not talking small stones, I am describing countertop sized slabs, far to big to be lifted by one man, used as humble fencing stones and paving stones. This is a clear sign of the abundance of marble on this island.
Our next and last stop in Greece was Mykonos. Besides Athens, this was perhaps our most touristic stop in Greece, and it showed in the amounts of litter that accumulated in the main town at the port. Our hotel on a remote part of the island, while humble, boasted amazing views as it sat on the top of a small cliff, towering over the waves of the Mediterranean. There is a beach, just a few flights of stairs down from the pool, and while it is not soft sand, the pebbles are all shades from deep reds to greens that reflect the cooler of the sea itself. There are a few trails quite close to the hotel, and these lead to magnificent vantage points to view the stunning sights below.
This is the end of our tour of Greece, our travels will continue to other places, but I am sad to have to say goodbye to Greece. We have had many delicious meals, been treated with fantastic views, and had a relaxing, exciting, wonderful time in this country.
Naxos is our longest stop on this trip, we are staying for ten nights! We met with some of our cousins who were visiting Greece and watched a beautiful sunset with them from our dinner table. Naxos is our relaxing stop for we have our own private pool. Our favourite beach has comfy hammocks and massive waves which are fun to play in.
I enjoy reading books together out loud as a family and our most recent book was about an ancient Korean potter, so we thought it only fitting to visit a pottery shop and see actual pieces being made. It was amazing to see the clay transforming from a grey lump into a beautiful vase shape. There were hundreds of sculpted pieces, molded and painted beautifully. In the same small village we saw a traditional olive oil press that was in use till the 1900’s.
We visited an ancient marble quarry where they would carve out the general shape of the sculpture then drag them down the mountain. Sometimes parts of the statues broke in transport so they were left where they fell and new pieces had to be cut.
While exploring the island, we found part of the ancient Roman aqueducts that led from the natural spring to the main town. An eighty meter section of the aqueduct was partially restored along with other sections in the snaking route it took. The aqueduct was 11 kilometres long running through small villages along the way.
On our second to last day in Naxos we visited Chalki (pronounced Halki), the main town on Naxos. We saw beautiful orange trees with the fruit hanging from the branches and an abandoned house with a massive rose bush blooming from it. Naxos is another island we’ve returned to and I am very glad we did.
Next port of call: Naxos. We have been to this island before, and we loved it so much we had to come back. As our longest stop, we got a small villa which features a private pool with stunning views as the main attraction. It is here where we spent the majority of the first few days.
Once we were finally able to pull ourselves away from the poolside, we discovered a unique way to enjoy the beach, in hammocks! The taverna just opposite the beach put out 10-15 hammocks in sets of two with umbrellas, in addition to a few rows of regular loungers. I love the hammocks, the only downside being the amount of sand that ends up in the hammock by way of your feet. They are very soft and comfy, and I enjoyed reading in them, it was a very unique experience. The beach itself was situated in line with the ferry lanes, causing large waves to crash to shore in short bursts every 20 minutes or so. I thoroughly enjoyed playing in these large waves, and at the end of the day, I had perfected the art of getting into the water as fast as possible since the waves never lasted very long!
We did more then just relax however, and hiked up a small hill to where, in ancient days, marble was mined. It was then cut out into the approximate shape before being transported to the more artistic metropolises in Europe to be crafted into fine statues. These were often built for people of significant wealth or stature.
The crude rock statues that remain are here because a leg broke, or there was an accident while transporting. It is amazing to see the sheer size of this carving, with no power tools or any heavy machinery used. The stone masons who worked here carried the statues out by hand, before it was placed in a cart for transport to the port.
I personally loved Naxos, for the stunning sunset views, as well as the great beaches. With this as our rest stop, we will soon be going on to the island of Paros as this adventure continues!
In Folegandros we disembarked from the fast ferry and walked across the small port town to our hotel. Folegandros is a beautiful island with crystal clear waters. The port city was much smaller than I expected, taking only ten minutes to walk from one side to the other and had only a bus stop, a harbour and a cafe with a cluster of hotels scattered around the bay.
We took the bus to the medieval main town of Chora where we found a delicious restaurant in a beautiful square with shade provided by trees. The city’s streets are narrow and hardly wide enough for a car to pass through, snaking around buildings creating squares and changing abruptly from cobbles to gravel and dirt. On one of these many winding streets we rented a car and drove to a tiny beach that hd many caves and shallow inlets heated by the blazing sun.
On our last full day in Folegandros we took a boat to Katergo beach which was said to be the best beach on the island by two of the locals we talked to. It is only accessible by boat or by hiking forty minutes in. The beach was definitely the most beautiful with the clearest water I have ever seen. When I was swimming out to a large rock about 100m from shore with Brandon, I got stung by a jelly fish, happily the stings healed within a few hours. I got stung 13 times on my arm, hand and ankle when I was almost at the rock.
On our last night we drove to Chora and I ate goat for the first time. It tasted a little like beef but it was very tender and juicy. I got a delicious espresso freddo (coffee with milk and ice) while waiting for our fast ferry bound for Naxos!