Special Events

The Thai Challenge

New Years resolutions are so 2011 (and hard to keep, too!), which is why I decided to do things differently this year. Instead of dropping my usual resolution within days, I went a different route and chose to take on a new language. Next month, I will be heading off to Thailand so I’ve decided to take on this crazy challenge on an extremely tight schedule. Within the next 30 days, I want to learn Thai. That’s right, by the time I leave on February 4th, I want to be comfortable with the basics of Thai so that I can get around Thailand a little easier.

What?

Learning basic Thai in order to be able to interact with people using simple sentences for common situations such as asking for directions, ordering food or trying to bargain when possible. I don’t plan to be able to hold a conversation but I want to be able to flesh out the conversation instead of relying on hand gestures and saying ‘yes please’ repeatedly.

When?

I’m leaving in 30 days so this is basically a month-long challenge and it gives me exactly 4 weeks to reach my goal. I will put the focus on different things every week but the idea is to learn as much as possible in that time.

How?

This isn’t the first language I learn so I’ll probably rely on proven methods (lists of words! Cue cards! Phonetic learning! Chocolate?) to be able to learn as much as possible in as little time as possible. I do have a few reference tools like my trusty Lonely Planet and an iPad app, which will probably be the 2 tools I’ll use the most. I don’t plan on buying a dictionary or anything like that as I won’t be gone long enough for it to be worth the money and at the end of the day, I’ll learn the words phonetically, not the spelling, so a dictionary wouldn’t be the best tool anyway.

Why?

I’ve never felt like I had to learn a language before heading to a foreign country for two reasons; I don’t travel for more than a few weeks at a time and I’ve simply never felt the need to. I can usually get around easily with the languages I know as I’ve always been to places where French, Spanish or English are spoken either as a first or second language.

Things are different this time around as Thailand, much like Asia in general, simply feels like a whole different world and as the saying goes, when in Rome, do as Romans do. Obviously, it’s also a sign of respect to at least be able to use a few basic words, even if most of the conversation will probably end up being done in English.

Stay tuned to follow my process and see if I’ll be able to reach my goal or if I’ll need to rely on hand gestures, smiles and nods when I get to Thailand in February!

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My 2011

Before ringing in the new year tonight, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do a quick summary of how my year looked like on the travel front.

– Countries

Although some of my original plans fell through this year, I still managed to visit my 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th countries in 2011. 3 out of those 4 countries, namely Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, had been in my plans since my non-trip in 2008 so I was more than happy to finally visit them. I also spent a quick week in Panama, which was, to date, my favorite experience in Central/South America.

I also roamed around Canada a fair amount and got a few more U.S. stamps in my passport but the “new countries” are definitely the highlight of my year.

I didn’t quite make it to my 5th continent but that will happen in 2012 and I’m more than satisfied with the experiences I’ve had while traveling this year.

– Bucket List

Do I keep a bucket list? Yes, ,I do. Do I plan my trips around it? No, I don’t. That being said, I still managed to cross a whopping 3 items off of it this year and also did some work on a fourth item, making 2011 a very successful year in terms of shortening the proverbial “list”.

I flew first class for the first time on my way to Belgium, which was a rather uncharacteristic splurge for me and although the flight wasn’t overly long (just over 7 hours), I absolutely enjoyed the experience. For the comfort alone, I would be more than willing to replicate the experience in the future and let’s be honest, the food and booze aren’t half bad either!

Although my visit to the Netherlands was a little short for my tastes, I managed to see Ann Frank’s house, which was definitely one of the things I didn’t want to miss out on while in Amsterdam. I had heard horror stories about the never ending lines in front of the museum but I lucked out and although pictures aren’t allowed inside the house (one of my biggest pet peeves about museums in Europe!), I was happy with the experience and glad to have included the visit in my itinerary.

In Germany, I finally managed to visit a concentration camp (I actually visited 2, considering they are plentiful in Germany), after failing to do so in 2008 and coming so close while in Belgium a few months before. While Auschwitz remains a place I desperately want to visit in the future, getting to spend a few hours in Dachau and Sachsenhausen was the highlight of my trip to Germany.

One of the long-lasting items on my bucket list is to visit 100 countries, which is obviously a work in progress but adding 4 countries in a year is a step in the right direction.

– The Road

I rarely travel with other people, both by choice and because I don’t always pick the destinations my friends are thinking of when they have time to travel, so when a friend of mine said he would like to visit the GaspĂ© peninsula and see PercĂ© Rock, I was more than happy to tag along for a quick road trip. The tip of the peninsula is located at the far end of the province of Quebec and although the drive was rather dull at times, it was definitely a cool way to spend a long weekend. I had been meaning to visit the region for a long time but never quite got around to it so getting to explore that little corner of my province was something I was glad to finally do.

– Business

Although Ontario is the neighboring province, I somewhat ironically visited it more for business purposes than as part of an actual trip (layovers at Pearson excluded, of course). I had planned a few things to do while in Toronto but the schedule got a little hectic and it turned out to be all business. On the bright side, I got to see Suzie McNeil and the Barenaked Ladies perform, the Staal brothers being interviewed by TSN’s James Duthie and hear a speech by Bell Canada’s president George Cope, which made the whole event fairly cool to attend.

– So Many Ways

Blame it on my habit to travel solo or on some weird quirkiness but every once in a while, I tend to start counting random things involving travel. How many nights slept in a hotel/hostel, how many flights I was on or how many means of transportation I used are among the things I usually work with as they are somewhat easy to recall and count. Obviously, those are totally random facts and don’t have much of an impact on anything but the fact that I don’t spend months traveling each year makes it more than doable to simply sit and add up those things. They’re also a good way to pass the time when flying; which is usually the moment I choose to count those little stats.

For the record, in 2011 I;

Was on 10 flights
Used 8 different means of transportation
Spent 30 nights in a hotel or hostel

That’s it; a short (and sweet?) post about my travels in 2011.

Happy New Year & safe travels!


International Museum Day

On May 18th 1969, Apollo 10 was launched and Elizabeth Montgomery, the actress famously known for the role of Samanta on Bewitched passed away on May 18th 2005 but did you know that since 1977, the 18th of May is known as the “International Museum Day”? The event is celebrated around the world and this year’s IMD, “Museum and Memory” literally has thousands of partners doing their part in the project. The entire list of participating museums can be found on the World Museum Community website, which I will link at the bottom.

While I didn’t get to visit the lone Dutch museum taking part in IMD, I do have to admit that museums have been a guilty pleasure of mine for the longest time. With school, I visited a good amount of Canadian museums in Quebec City, Montreal & Ottawa and that definitely triggered some kind of an interest later in life as I tend to hit at least one museum everywhere I go. My discovery of international museums began with the British Museum and The Louvre, which are arguably two of the biggest, most famous museums in the world; setting a very high standard for the future museums I visit.

Strictly speaking about museums, in the classic sense of the word, those two still have a very important place in my head and although they hardly need more publicity, I thought highlighting a few points for each of them was a good way of celebrating International Museum Day.

The British Museum

I could not have set the bar any higher on my first day in England and even today, looking back at the pictures I took seven years ago, I still feel the exact same way I felt when I stood in front of the impressive building. The sheer size of the museum is surprising and the fancy interior is absolutely breathtaking. It’s no wonder people wander around the lobby and take pictures before even being inside the museum.

The most famous piece inside the actual museum is arguably the Rosetta Stone; which is the tool originally used to translate hieroglyphs. The museum’s key piece is easy to find although a little on the small side, which means there is very little chance of managing to snap a picture without a random tourist, or at least a body part, in the way.

In terms of collections, the museum has a very impressive amount of Egyptian pieces, ranging from tiny sharps of stone to gigantic vases, sarcophagi and statues.

Scheduling a day at the British Museum certainly isn’t a bad idea as there are so many different rooms and exhibits that you will end up having to pick and choose if you don’t want to spend your entire vacation in the museum.

The best part of it all is that admission to the museum is always free so, in the likely event that you feel like splitting your visit in two, you won’t hold back simply because you won’t have to pay for admission twice.

The Louvre

Think of it as France’s answer to the British Museum and following the French tradition, they made it bigger and better. The museum, made even more famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, is certainly the museum to see while in France and unless you plan on rushing through it to have a few pictures to bring home with you, a whole day is barely enough to see all there is to see.

If I have a single advice when visiting the Louvre it’s; be selective. You can’t see it all. Try and take a look at the website before you visit or grab a map at the entrance and head for the exhibits that you actually want to see. Also, don’t forget that you’ll surely want to spend some time in the famous inner courtyard to catch the perfect picture of the famous glass pyramid before going inside to snap a photo of it’s inverted counterpart.

The famous Venus de Milo, along with Da Vinci’s many paintings, including the always popular Mona Lisa, are some of the very popular pieces in the Louvre so you should expect crowds; especially if you plan to visit on a Friday night when admission is free for those under 26 or on the first Sunday of each month, when it is free for everyone. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa used to be guarded by security to prevent the painting being damaged by people taking pictures but rumor has it the guards are gone and people can take pictures now.

In a way, there is really nothing like actually visiting either of these museums at least once in your life and if you aren’t a fan of museums to begin with; you are bound to find something you’ll enjoy through the many different exhibits available.

International Museum Day
British Museum
The Louvre