Thursday, 11 May 2017

Why am going back to the UK!

No one needs to analyze me deeply to find out am full of wanderlust! The other thing about me is that am very passionate about the environment, and especially biodiversity conservation, so when it comes to travelling and exploring nature- that is just my kind of gig! So here is my story, of an excited Kenyan lady visiting the United Kingdom for the first time and the experiences it came along with!
Setting off…
I was very excited when I started planning for my trip to the UK. Everything just seemed to fall in place, with logistics being easier than I imagined. All I had to do was present myself. My plan other than my main business in the UK, was to see birds and add new names to the list of ‘birds I know’, to visit as many areas as possible and to take lots of pictures- definitely! Some people travel through my eyes- so yes, pictures are key! Niki, my camera, was ready for work and I was all set ready to experience spring for the first time. Before I left was very impressed by the fact that the organization was compensating for my travel as a carbon offset, which made me feel better and how ‘eco-friendly’ this trip was set to be!
Just before getting there…
Have you ever planned for something then you get a sneak peek of it just before it happens? That is exactly what happened… though slightly. So this year my bestie and I have been saving for a vacay in Dubai. Desert safari, sunset dhow dinner and much more is the motivation- we have not yet gone. Anyway, back to my main story, en route to the UK, I was transiting in Dubai and I got to see this beloved city from above as well as spot the Burj Al Arab. Well, I can say my eyesight is excellent! As we approached Dubai, I was looking out with Niki in hand ready to capture beautiful sceneries but this did not work too well as we were too high above. From above, Dubai looked like a desert next to a sea- which is exactly what it is. Quite a number of buildings are visible since the city is home to several sky scrapers. The Dubai airport is a heaven on its own, if you are a shopper this airport will keep you busy! I had a whole 4 hours lay-over in DXB airport which I felt was too short, my eyes just couldn’t have enough. With that said, I am looking forward to the Dubai vacay… for now I cannot write much about the place since I only had a ‘sneak peek’- but I am definitely more inspired to visit.
UK… we are here now!
I was all smiles after flying in an airbus A380 from Dubai to London - people, this is the biggest aircraft I have seen!! Being all excited and wanting to be awake to see everything, I watched some movies and was captivated by this one: A Street Cat Named Bob, I just have to recommend it. The food was good too, Emirates is not disappointing!! I was comfortable all through, so happy me, all was going on perfectly!
Nothing gets me more excited than arriving to my destination! Finally I was in the UK, after months of anticipating. The UK is an island nation consisting of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It is home to many including the famous such as Shakespeare and of course Queen Elizabeth, who has been Queen of the United Kingdom since 1952. The British Monarchy is the oldest form of governance in the UK. The Royal family seems to be much loved and respected, far and wide, I remember in Kenya the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was a national affair, screening live on air on quite a number of television channels.
Anglesey Abbey gardens

Driving to my ‘home’ for the next few weeks, I was staring at bare trees and huge tracts of what seemed to be farm land. The drive was characterized with lot of flowers blooming, and I understand that I will remember spring as the season of flowers.

I was also informed that the weather was getting warm now and it was the best time to visit! I felt the cold through to my bones and this was nothing near warm for all I knew, but still, anytime is a good time for me to visit anywhere. I was not complaining, in fact I could not wait to step outside and feel the chill directly on my skin. As we approached Cottenham ‘village’ (what they call estates I believe), I spotted very neat houses with brightly flowered gardens. I also spotted a few people tending to their gardens and kids in no sweaters running around, clearly this was a warm season, but I could not imagine myself in no sweater out there- no way!! I realized Cottenham was about two hours away from the Heathrow Airport, but the drive was good, no traffic (thank heavens!) as my focus was on getting ‘home’ showering, getting a small bite and sleeping for an hour or two. We got to the house, as I took a warm shower my host was kind enough to fix me hot breakfast which I thoroughly enjoyed, and this again was a first for me, eating asparagus and halloumi cheese- which makes a certain squeak when you chew it.
Halloumi cheese, asparagus, toast with peppered egg and tea

Anglesey Abbey: this is the first place I set foot for site seeing, yaay! Mind you, it was still on that very day I had arrived in the UK. The Anglesey Abbey is categorized under National Trust, and it was the home of lord Fairhaven.

Anglesey Abbey

It is characterized by gardens, walks, statues amassed by lord Fairhaven and the House which stores his collections. I was lucky to have visited during the clean-up of the collection, which is done for conservation efforts. My favourite of the walks was the Winter walk, which has spectacular trees and so colorful from all the flowers.
The House

Some of the collections in the House
The gardens are a beautiful sight to see, hues of all colors you can imagine decorate the gardens as flowers start to bloom. I kept on thinking if I am to get married this would just be the ideal location for that, lush green grasses,  tree canopies,  birds chirping and flowery walk way- perfect! I got a chance into the House, for sure lord Fairhaven was strict about his passion and lifestyle. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring and getting treated to hot chocolate and chocolate cake, just what I needed!
The following day I set out to the Lodge in Sandy, this is the headquarters of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB). I was going to spend the entire week there. My trip so far was going on so well, I was already wishing it was longer. The RSPB is the biggest conservation organization in the UK, with about 210 reserves spread out in the region. During lunch hour, you can take walks within the Lodge and spot several birds and trees including squirrels and even deer! I snapped some pictures as usual… I should mention that I met a very beautiful peacock named George!

Common Pheasant
Peacock (named George)
Grey-lag Goose
There is also a souvenir shop located within and all purchases go directly into conservation, talk about fundraising through all available means! So you can spoil yourself there, like I did on my last day at the Lodge thanks to an awesome gift from my week-long colleagues!
Outside Hope Farm

During that same week, I had two days working away from office, with the first day working at Hope Farm, assisting in preparations for the highly anticipated RSPB weekend, which was going to take place in a week and unfortunately I would be back in Kenya by then. However, I still had a lot of fun and hoping to spot a Barn owl which decided to shy away from me. The next day as adventurous with a road trip to Titchwell Marsh, where the RSPB has a reserve. This was one of my favourite days during my visit because I got to experience a totally different environment. I come from the Kenyan coast, and I am used pretty much to a warm beach, but this was totally opposite of what I experienced. Titchwell RSPB reserve is a great spot for bird-watching and this was a huge learning point for me to know and see quite a number of birds of the UK. The Titchwell beach was clean, clear and cold; and I was excited that I was actually seeing the North Sea! After spending the morning at Titchwell, we drove down to Morston Quay and towards Blakeney point by boat where we had reserved for a seal boat trip tour!  I was thrilled that I was going to see seals live and my mission was this and a ‘sealfie’! Well, taking the sealfie was not as easy as I imagined.
Titchwell Beach
a seal at Blakeney Point

Cambridge and London…
Cambridge was a busier area compared to Sandy. There are lots of malls and shops within and I observed quite a number of students streaming in and out of all corners. This is due to the fact that Cambridge hosts many universities, some of the oldest in the world, dating far back as the 12th century such as the famous good old University of Cambridge. I loved the ‘compound’ just within the town, it is like some sort of green corner area you can seat and have a breath of fresh air overlooking the town, the people and their pets and of course not forgetting the flowers. The River Cam is the main river flowing through the town and it made for a beautiful backdrop. There are also boat tours that one could do. It is also interesting to know that DNA was first announced in Cambridge, specifically at The Eagle Pub and I had a chance to see this blue post signage which stated how Watson and Crick on 28th February 1953 announced how DNA carries information. If I was in that pub during that time I do not know if I would have believed this duo, anyway… the Cambridge Conservation Initiative is an interesting place to work! I was wowed by the literally green walls of the David Attenborough building which hosts many conservation-led organizations including the Secretariat of BirdLife International where I was working for the second week. Also, outside the building is a huge dinosaur skeleton that has been mounted upright with a signage on the glass wall stating that the school of Zoological sciences will soon be operating.
River Cam 
  King’s College

Now to L.O.N.D.O.N!! This was unexpected but glad it happened because I had an extremely amazing time sightseeing and walking through the streets of London. If you have not watched Osofia in London, please do, it explains why I really needed to see London, because through that hilarious Nigerian movie, I had visited virtually. I took a train from Waterbeach to London King’s Cross with one stop at Cambridge. The train ride lasted about one and a half hours and as we approached the train station I saw the big Emirates Arsenal Stadium. Well, I am not a soccer fan, but I wished I was not in the train but out so that I could take a picture in front of the stadium. King’s cross is a very busy station and it is easy to get lost within. People with all sorts of baggage run across every section trying to catch a train and especially not to miss a train. Outside the station, I was greeted by fine blue skies and the sun, yes the SUN! This was the only sunny day I experienced during my visit, though it was not that warm but it was great for taking pictures. I had consulted and written a list of places I wanted to see in London and this was the time for that. For your information, this list consisted of London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. I made it to the first four, unfortunately I did not get to visit the Buckingham Palace, but that is a trip for another day. From asking around, I realized all these places were just all around one area. The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel that faces the famous River Thames, I believe there are breathtaking views of London when on it. I did not get a ride on it, but again I plan on doing that on my next visit! The Westminster Bridge is above the River Thames and there are scenic views of the London Eye, Jubilee Bridge, Big Ben and Palace of Westminster. Big Ben is an iconic clock tower and is located at the end of the Palace of Westminster. I was ecstatic to see this and I took just about a million of pictures of the Great Clock and even got a key holder in the shape of the building. From Big Ben, I walked towards the Trafalgar square, which is known and commemorated for the famous Battle of Trafalgar. The common items to look out for at the Trafalgar square are the huge bronze lion sculptures and the fountains and of course I took some pictures before I started my shopping spree (read window-shopping!) on the famous Oxford Circus. Oxford Street is for sure a circus of people from all walks of life and all corners of the world. I think I even heard someone speak my mother-tongue! Well, the street is a bit congested, but what do you expect with all these great shops staring at you and begging you to walk in! After this very busy day I took the London Underground tube, which made my ears pop, and dropped off at King’s Cross to connect to the train heading back to Waterbeach.
With that said, I had an amazing and beautiful trip and I hope to go back to the UK soon!
London Eye and the River Thames 

Trafalgar Square (National Gallery in background)

Westminster Palace and Big Ben   

Jubilee Bridge (behind me)

Westminster Bridge & Big Ben in the background   

      on the streets of London     

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

What Was Once Holy Land

While the South of Holland goes all crazy about this costume party carnival, the rest just celebrates the start of new spring with a short school break. The birth of spring back in '89 came together with my birth. For my 18th birthday, my father took me to Stockholm – I keep yelling that I was born in the Winter so 'let it snow' after all. Ever since, my birthday was spent abroad and this year my mom and I are going to an island once called Holy Land

A Trip to Heligoland

This German archipelago belonged to the East-Frisians and was like a holy land while at sea. A place for feeling away & free for all those seamen. The Danish lay their hands on it and holy land became Heligoland.
But “Holy land” was won from Denmark in 1814 and thus became British Heligoland. Later, in 1890, it was traded for Zanzibar with Germany. During the second world war, William II turned it into a German marine post and all its citizens had to leave. Although Holy Land survived, water did split the little island Düne from Heligo and was never one again. In 1952, all the citizens got a chance to return to the island.

Heligoland lies 70km off shore and is 100 times smaller than the Dutch grandest island Texel.
This island dune has an airport, but sea-loving as I am, I chose to take the boat. There are many places that have airlines flying to Heligoland, but now being the winter season, only Cuxhaven offers flights to this place. Plane or ferry, the weather forecast crew has given warning of a storm – so I have crossed my fingers.

Tomorrow after work at around 4 pm, we will drive our little van to Bremen. While there, we will stay at an autohof for the night then on Friday morning, we will drive to Cuxhaven where the ship company Cassen Eils will bring us to what was once Holy Land. I look forward to seeing its animals, nature, sea and wind. 

A little windstorm hit my country the afternoon we left. Blasts with rain flashed off the road up to our van. Somewhat scary... but an adventure that I will never forget. At Bremerhave, 50km before Cuxhaven, we parked at a MacDonalds and stayed over night. We had an amazing difference in weather the next morning.

'Ihr siehe aus wie Helgoland,' was what a lady told us when we were on our way to the boat in Cuxhaven. We looked like we were going to Heligoland – so that's possible! To look at a person, and just by that know his destination? Amazing! And I'm glad she did, because we were not going on the right way. 'Vielen Dank!' we said. Yes, much thanks indeed, because we were already late. Despite the blue sky and the sun, I endured the wind getting to my head and stomach during the 2 and a half hour passage. The boat brought us from Cuxhaven to Heligoland, and around lunch, we were at our destination.
If only we had known that the following days wouldn't be so sunny!Too bad, but I didn't let it spoil my adventure. Just that the pictures that I took have a little less blue sky than I had hoped for, but the animals, nature, sea and wind are enough. There was rain as well. Still, it's the wind that defined our whole stay and what I will always remember.

This island has an upland area, a middle and a lowland (Oberland, Unterland and Mittelland). The famous red sea stack 'Tall Anna' is of course up, and also with 61.3 meters being the highest place at this island, Pinneberg. Around the sight-seeing path towards Anna, there is plenty of nature and animals. But people have built their houses on the low or middle area.

Stairs take people to the high grounds. Locks hang aside on the railing, just like with Ponts des Arts at Paris once. For 60 cents an elevator can take you up as well.

The colours of the Heligoland flag actually have a meaning “Grün ist das Land, rot ist die Kant, weiß ist der Sand. Das sinden die Farben von Heligoland” Green for land, red for the coast and white for the sand.

Grün ist das Land.

Yes, green is the land. Maybe not as much this time of year, but still. Goat, cow, rabbit, sheep – they are all together at the green land. Also, the stones to be found here are fascinating in colour. The red fire-stone is said to be only found here. I looked but couldn't find it.

Rot ist die Kant

Yes, red is the stack. And we fought our way through the wind to Tall Anna. The sea stack may be famous for the red colour and hight of 47 meter, but I thought the birds on the cliffs to be way more impressive. Hundreds of them have made the red 'buntsandstein' their home. Nests they make with lost fishing nets they found at sea. The big northern gannet alongside the little penguin-looking bird common murre.

Weiß ist der Sand

Maybe a little too poetic, but white is the beach. For just 5euro's the little boat 'Witte Kliff' (white cliff) will take you one mile over sea where an amazing day at Düne awaits. Yes, Düne, the little baby of Heligoland. On New Year's Eve 1721 a big storm surge separated the Dünes from Heligoland. Therefore, the island that arose was called Düne (Düne) This protected nature area called Helgoländer Felssockel (Heligoland rock core ) is where the actual white beach can be found. Once part of Heligoland, but now a beautifull little island, filled with nature – and the airport. This may sound kind of weird and impossible. But its airport really fades away to nothing with such amount of seals. These seals are such cute models! They smile, wave and are all just gracing a perfect picture. So, at the end of the day I made of course dozens of pictures.

The boat took us on Monday at 4:00 p.m. back to shore. We could leave our stuff at the apartment till 3:00 pm, so we made a last visit to Düne and said goodbye to Anna.  

Friday, 10 February 2017

Tourist Etiquette

Say what? Yes, you heard it right. There is a famous business saying, ‘The customer is always right.’ This is not always the case. In many instances, a customer can be wrong but since he who pays the piper plays the tune, the seller is left with no option but to give in to what the customer wants. Tourism is an experiential industry. 

While in buying goods we carry them home, a tourist carries the experience.  One cannot throw it away or give it to a neighbour or relative, it is yours for keeps. While the host destination or attraction managers are the ones largely responsible for creating a wonderful experience for tourist, a tourist can go a long way in making his or her experience even better.

Respect the locals
A tourist leaves his or her home, town or country to visit something that is not found in their locality. Many attractions a found in places where people have a different lifestyle from ours, level of education or world view. While we may not agree with some of the things that the locals do, it is always important to be respectful. Instead of saying “I will not participate in your barbarian practices”, or, “I will dress in what I want”, one can say, “No, thank you” or “I am sorry I do not have any outfit that is more appropriate”. This can also give you an opportunity to improvise in a thing or two.  It does not hurt to say “excuse me”, “please” and “thank you”. It does not matter how much one is paying for the services, being respectful or lack of it will make the difference between a tourist who will be treated like royalty, or have coffee spilt on them ‘accidentally’.

Do not Show Off
More often than not, our tourism adventure leads us to low income areas with amazing beauty and attraction. In certain instances, we visit places where on only the who’s who visit. Whether we are at a high end or low income attraction, do not show off. You will have a chance when you get back home to show off to your friends, colleagues or competitors.
Showing often demeans the locals and often makes them hostile to not only you as a tourist but to future tourists as well. You do not what to be a spoiler now, do you? The greater consequence of this is that you will get robbed clean. If you have enough to show off carelessly, someone will be ‘generous enough’ to show you that many more people are in need or what you have. Modesty, modesty, modesty.

Listen to Your Guide

This has become one of the biggest issues with tourists. With so much information on the internet from countless people and studies that we have made before hand, we often feel like experts. “What is this fool telling me, hasn’t he read…”, “Doesn’t he know that …”, “Oh, but I read something different on Tripadvisor”. While it is important to find out as much information as possible about a destination before visiting it, not all the information is accurate. People often write based on their knowledge, experience and world view.
Two people can go on the same trip, be in the same team, get the same services and have a totally different experience. When a tour guide says that one should not go beyond a certain point, touch certain things or take pictures in certain places, please listen to them. It does not matter whether you are a professor, doctor in animal psychology or Nobel Peace Prize winner in whatever field. You are under the care of the guide. When things go wrong, the guide will be more willing to help you out when he or she knows that you have followed all the instruction, than if you thought that you know better than the locals. 
There have been cases of animal attacks, tourists falling off slippery gorges, among other accidents. Better safe than sorry. 

In the end, whether you are paying for your tourism experience or getting it for free, you have the chance to make or break it. Some things are beyond our control, but if we are a little bit more sensitive to the hosts, we can have beautiful memories that we will keep for the rest of our lives.
If we get an opportunity to visit the same place again, we will be received like royalty, friends or even family members. The hosts will go out of their way to make sure that we get what we need and are comfortable. Money can buy most things but a good heart can take us through almost every situation. Try it out, it works!

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