"We travel not to escape our life, but to stop life from escaping us"
When you're thinking about a holiday destination lets all be honest, relaxing with a coffee at Stars and Bucks (the West Bank version of Starbucks) doesn't usually come up, but it should. So here are my 5 reasons to visit the West Bank and Palestine sooner rather than later.
1. Whatever you think you, you’re wrong
We all think we know what going on in the West Bank and have our preconceptions of what it’s like. I did, I’m not afraid to say that I was even a little apprehensive traveling there with my wife and young children. How wrong I was. Spending even a little time in the West Bank is enlighten, saddening, uplifting, and educational all at the same time. There are so many facets to this place it’s hard to process everything but I can guarantee you that you will still be thinking and talking about your visit there long after you’ve left.
2. Palestinian's can’t wait to meet you
Palestinian people literally can’t wait to meet you. A smile and a welcome from nearly everyone we pass. They are a warm and friendly people, happy to sit and tell their story. My girls played dolls with the daughter of our host and then ran out to play football in the street with some local kids while we ate an amazing lunch and chatted about life, the world and social media. When we had to leave all Lucy wanted to know was when they could come back and play.
3. You get a bang for you buck.
Because the tourist industry is still building up you’ll see a lot for your money. Especially if you can spend a few days with the same guide. From lunches with locals to hidden gems the money you pay to travel in Palestine will give you more experience than you can ever think of.
4. The guides are passionate
I’ve been on a lot of tours in a lot of countries and sometimes you can see they are just going through the motions, especially in place with a fully developed tourist industry. However Palestine is different, the tourist industry is still building. This means that the guides still talk with verdant enthusiasm about the place they live, the history, the culture and the life they live. They aren’t reeling off lines from a script they are educating tourists with a passion that I love when I’m seeing a new part of the world. (If you are looking for a guide contact Muhanned, he is a great local guide)
5. It’s disappearing
Although it shouldn’t be, the Palestinian area of the West Bank is shrinking. With the building of the separation wall and new Israel settlement being developed every year its making it harder and harder for people to justify staying. In reality if you are planning to visit Palestine in 5-10 years time you may have missed the boat (although I hope this isn’t so). We visited one area now called the ghost town in Hebron where a once thriving market street now has only three Palestinian families living there and nothing but closed store fronts. So the best thing to do. Book now and book with a local.
The hiss of steam and the sway of a river, there is nothing quite like a ride on a steam train or trip on a ferry so why not combine both. We took the steam train to Kingswear and ferry to Dartmouth for a family day trip.
Full Steam Ahead
Our kids love taking the train anywhere. There is something about a train journey where they can watch the world go by from out the windows on both sides of the train that makes them love the experience. The steam train from Paignton to Kingswear (across the water from Dartmouth) is unique because it’s a steam engine. The hiss of steam and the chug-chug of the train as it rolls to its destination just add to the experience. We took the 10:30 am train, which let us relax and have breakfast but still have some good time in Dartmouth to explore. Past beaches and through tunnels the train rolls along. People stand at crossings waving and our girls eagerly reply with a smile and an enthusiastic wave back.
Pulling In And Shipping Out
We pull into the station at Kingswear and head out of the train onto a platform that hasn’t changed much since it was first opened. Down the platform past the café and onto the dock towards the Ferry that will take us across the river to Dartmouth. The trip is only 5-10 minutes across to the other side of the river and you can either sit inside or adventure outside (like we did) and ride on at the front of the ferry watching the other boats and birds bob up and down as we pass them. The ferry jostles in against the dock and everyone file out and up the dockside back onto dry land ready to explore Dartmouth.
Parks And Markets
Take a right out of the ferry and have a walk along the river side to stroll through Royal avenue gardens. Although it’s by no mean a huge site to see, taking the short walk usually separates you from any crowds that took the ferry with you who head straight out into the town. The gardens have some interesting statues, a bandstand and fountain plus when you leave at the other end you are perfectly placed to head up Duke Street and cut down Foss Street for a walk away from the cars past galleries and stores. At the end of the street loop around to the left and head back toward the old town market that offers a selection of different shops and if you are feeling adventurous a fish monger that offers fish filleting lessons and a taste of some great local catch.
A True Devon Lunch
After this bit of exploration it time for lunch! We head to the Smith Street Deli for one of the best ploughman’s lunches I have had in many years. For everyone who doesn’t know about the ploughman’s then here is the low down. The ploughman’s lunch usually consists of a thick slice of ham and of mature English cheddar accompanied but crusty bread, pickled onions and relish however at Smith Street they add a great little fresh salad which fit perfectly with the meal. Other than the ploughman’s they offer homemade soups with fresh crusty bread, sandwiches and a whole host of other great meals plus some great coffee and tea. If you are looking for a delicious lunch this is the place to go in my opinion, you can even buy some tasty cheese, olives and crackers to take home for an evening snack, what more do you need.
Memories in Art
After filling up on lunch there is time to explore the rest of the shops and streets on Dartmouth. Stores offering handmade soaps and other artisan products all the way to the standard tourist items are dotted around the narrow streets. If you’re looking for a different and unique present or souvenir head over to Paul Barclay Designs. A former dock master turned artist has a distinctive style and offer a great range of prints and original art for everyone budget. If you catch Paul there he is keen to answer questions about what goes into creating art and hear about where you are from and what brings you to the area. Like I say, if you are looking for a unique gift or a souvenir for yourself this is the place to check out.
Carb lines and Lifeboats
Before catching the ferry back check out the RLNI lifeboat visitor’s center to learn about the amazing work they do keeping people safe when they are out on the water and across the road you might find people dropping lines into the water with small bags of meat on the end. Our girls were delighted when they were pulled back up with two or three crabs attached which were then dropped into a bucket for them to see (no hooks are used and all the crabs are usually returned to the water after). If you fancy trying it yourself duck into one of the tourist shop and they will point you towards what you need.
After watching the crabbing we walk along the river side and jump onto the ferry back to Kingswear and the train station. Make sure you get on the ferry about 20-30 minutes before your train is set to leave just to make sure you don’t miss it. Tired from a day of walking around our girls sit on the train and the slow chugging begins to lull them to sleep…..yea right, how could they wave to all the people the train passes by if they are asleep plus they wouldn’t want to miss it if the train drivers decided to let out a ‘woo wooooo’ before we get to the station.
Kenora is a beautiful place and a go to for our family for weekend getaways or a stopover on the way to or back from Toronto. So here are 7 of our families top things to do out and about around the Lake Of The Woods.
If you are expecting a hotel resort with all the modern comforts and I want to say upfront Seljavallalaug is probably not for you. However if you are up for an adventure and feel like getting an authentic old style Icelandic experience thermal pool then this is definitely somewhere you should carve out time to visit.
Take this road all the way to the end, park and then look into the distance and your will see a 'V' where the valley is. Walk towards that 'V' for about 20-25 minutes and you will find it. These were the direction given to us and we were also told ' don't turn back before 2 minutes, you might think you are lost but keep going'. So this is what we did, driving up a bumpy road to the end we parked our car and got out to look around. As described we could see the 'V' in the valley out in the distance so packed our bag and set out on our hike into nowhere.
Surrounded by amazing views, a river meandering along beside us the hike alone is worth the trip. We walk easily and Lucy takes a shoulder ride we check our watch to see how long we have been hiking for every so often. Just when we are starting to think we had taken a wrong turn or had driven up the wrong road, around a small corner to the left sat a pool. At the far end a white building with a landmark sign written in Icelandic and various pipes protruding from the rock cliff the pool is built against feeding warm water in.
The 'changing room' is a little like a stable and the water is completely unfiltered or treat which does mean it has a greeny tinge, but for us this only added to it. We dive into the changing rooms and put on our swim gear then into the hot pool for some swimming, playing and relaxing. A few more people arrive to swim but other than that we have the entire hot spring to ourselves. We spend the next few hours enjoying the pool and the amazing scenery until we are forced to hike back due to the fading light.
Now, I could tell you how to get to Seljavallaug. Drop a pin in a map or give a step by step guide but where would the fun in that be. You have the name and a rough idea. Half the fun of going somewhere like this is finding your own way. If you do then you can expect to enjoy your own little slice of an authentic Icelandic experience and man does it make for a good travel tale.
We scoot along the platform looking for the station masters office as the light from sunrise peeks across the platform in mettupalayam station. Handing him our ticket its confirmed we have no reserved seats, so into the unreserved line we go and wait to be huddled into our train carriage.
We had intended to book our tickets ahead of time but lack of a stable wifi connection had made that almost impossible. So now we hit and hope with unreserved and get into the Nilgiri Mountain Train Railway (called the toy train due to the cog system used during the assent up the mountain). I place my bag on the scale as a man adds weight to see how heavy it is. Then go into the parcel office to get the bag onto the train as our seats are to tight to have it with us. Bag tagged and taken, I head back to our carriage.
The train creeks and shunts into life and we start to move. Houses give way to amazing vibrant greenery. Which in turn gives ways to long deep valleys dotted with tea, waterfalls and the odd dwelling. Slowly but steadily our train picks its way up the mountain side over bridges and through tunnels. The carriage is packed, with every seat taken and a few people standing. At every turn of the track people lean towards the windows to snap a picture or just admire the view.
We stop at stations and take 5-10 minute to stretch legs, buy snacks and look at the views. Some station are overlooking rivers, others full of monkeys and even one station seeming to balance on the edge of the valley side as it drops away behind. The train whistle sounds and everyone loads back onto the train, snacks and cameras in hand.
Mettupalayam to Coonoor offers us amazing scenic landscape then changing gears and heading to Ooty we pass through towns and villages stopping only quickly for people to hustle off the train. After a while the train eases into the station and we pour out and down to the parcel carriage to collect our bag. Lucy waves goodbye to the train driver and we pick our way through the crowd and into the station. What a fun experience and a beautiful ride.
'Sploosh' the front and rear punters plop their bamboo poles into the water and we push away from the bank. The river is quiet and the as we glide past lush green banks of palm and mangrove and past clam shell fisherman. We are on our back water tour, but we aren't in Alleppey we're in Vaikom. Around 30km south of Cochin and 30km north of Alleppey lies Vaikom. Vaikom offers the same backwater experience but without the crowds. As we glide away from the
As we glide away from the bank our guide introduces herself and talks to us about the area and the history of the 250 year old man made canals we are traveling on. We drift between the banks which are dotted with house and the odd tributary stretching into the undergrowth. After a while the canal opens up to reveal lake Vembanadu, the largest lake in Kerala. Across the water we can see boat moving in and out of Alleppey and in the distance a ferry crossing the waters. Our boat eases right and hugs the bank of the government backwater area and before to long we are slowly pulling up at the village of Chempu.
Our guide walks us around the village and explains how they make rope for soaked and dried coconut husks. We stroll through the spice plants and back towards the water where we sit in a small open sided building to have lunch. Served on a banana leaf the traditional south India lunch is going to go down a treat. We all tuck into to the meal and sit back after full and happy.
Back on the boat and we make our way through the tightest canals yet. A brush against a mangrove on one side, then slide against a palm filled bank on the other and we are back out into the main canal. Pulling back up at the bank we thank our tour guide and the hard working punters and head back to the road to jump in our van back. So, if you are going to Alleppey to name drop it as a destination the keep on going but if you want a peaceful, uncrowded and authentic backwater experience then maybe check out Vaikom, you won't be disappointed.
The alarm goes off and we roll out of bed early in the morning as the sun is still rising. Loading our 2 sleepy girls into carriers and romping out to the trail head grabbing some snacks from breakfast on the way past. Today we have a goal! Head up to Pulpit rock before the crowds get there to and enjoy some snacks and peaceful scenery with Lucy and Tilley.
Sheena and I are both fans of active holidays and more often than not come back more tired than we left from a trip. So being in Norway with the chance, and time to hike up to pulpit rock it was a no brainer. Tilley riding in the front carrier with Sheena and Lucy in the back carrier with me. W have learnt from other hikes that whatever your plan be flexible when hiking with toddlers. Lucy has spurts where she want to walk (or usually climb) section. Tilley just as spurts and need her nappie changed. Whether its one or the other it slows down progress but in doing so i've realized that it also adds to experience. Watching Lucy scale a section of rocky steps and see how proud she is when she get to the top. I wouldn't give that up to be 30 minutes earlier.
So on a beautiful sunny Norwegian day we meander our way up the trail to pulpit rock, stopping for nappies and snacks. The hike is fairly easy a couple hours and we are rounding the corner and opening up to a beautiful vista. You can see all the way down each side to the valley and pulpit rock juts out, as a prominent, and amazing as all the pictures we had seen in our research before we left. Lucy being the daredevil fearless and most 2 year old's instantly wants to run over to the edge and look over. We set down our carriers near the back wall and walk over to the edge then lay in out tummies and wriggle so our head lean over and we can see all the way down (The tummy scoot is the technique we practice for everything that she could fall into or over. It serves me well at heights and the edge of water and I haven't lost her yet). We all take our obligatory pictures and then sit down away from the edge and watch the three or four other people do the same.
We spend an hour of so exploring the area and as more people arrive and it starts to fill up with tour groups, we are beginning our way back down. We turn the corner and Lucy make the observation that that was very high followed by the sentence ' that was beautiful daddy'. There it is, why I love taking my daughter to places like this and let them experience new places. As we hike down Tilley falls limp in Sheena's carrier and not long after Lucy head butts me in the back of the neck. Two girls completely exhausted after a day of awesome exploration.
I love going on grand adventures to far off places. Spending months planning and researching then setting off on a plane for new horizons. However after a lot of traveling I've realized that I get just as much joy and pleasure out of adventures closer to home. These mini adventures can be easy to organize, packed full of great fun and for us are a great way of breaking up the routine and exploring where we live.
Some of our mini adventure take us to other parts of Canada. A 2 day tour of breweries in Saskachwen, a long weekend at the Banff mountain film festival or canoeing in Kenora. In some cases it only take us a few hours from home. Stand up paddle boarding at Grand Beach, camping in Minedosa or Fat tire biking in riding mountain national park. Even just around the corner there are mini adventures to be taken hold of. Cross country skiing, mountain biking around the trails, geocaching pretty much anywhere or kayaking on the lake.
The more of these small adventure we weave into our family life, the more I see that maybe, yes, the big trips are amazing, but these mini bouts of exploration as a family might just create more memories and gift us more quality together. So, my suggestion. Try to plan your mini adventure asap. An afternoon hiking in a forest, a night camping under the stars or an hour bike ride in a neighborhood you have never been to. No matter where you go or what you do, there is a little adventure everywhere just waiting for you to find it.