A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about armchair travel

Physical Age, Maturity and Land Rovers

Heading to Toronto, Canada to celebrate a milestone, and thinking about physical age vs. maturity.

sunny 26 °C
View Toronto August 2008 on GregW's travel map.

I am back in Toronto for the weekend. It's a long way to fly for just a few days, I know, but I had to come back for a big event. My father is turning 80 this week, and we had a big party for him this past weekend. (Happy birthday, Dad!).

It was an excellent event, lots of friends and family stopping by. Many people made the same comments to me. "I can't believe he's 80. He certainly doesn't look it."

"No," I would reply, "he's still going full strength."

I got to see a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a long time, and got to visit with all my family for the first time in a couple of months. Being away for a little while made me realize how tall and grown up all my nieces and nephews had gotten. One of my nephews towers over me, and another one is just an inch shorter than me at this point. By the next time I see him, he'll probably be looking down at his uncle. I remember each of their births, it doesn't really seem that long ago, but in reality 10 to 20 years have passed since those days.

Later in the evening, after a lovely supper, I was standing with my Aunt. We worriedly watched smoke waft along the ceiling and over the smoke detectors of my father's condo's party room as sparklers on a large cake crackled away.


Once the sparklers extinguished without triggering an alarm, my Aunt and I started discussing age.

"It's hard to believe your Dad is 80," she said.

"I know," I replied, and then not sure what to say next resorted to a tried and true cliche. "Time sure does fly."

"It does," my Aunt replied. "Then again, it's hard for me to imagine that I am the age I am. I don't feel that old," she said.

I knew exactly what she meant. My birthday is only a few months off at this point, and I am closer to 40 than I am to 30. Actually, to be truthful, I am closer to 40 than I am to 35.

When I was a teenager, 30 seemed so mature, so adult. That was the age of people with good jobs and families, living in nice houses in the suburbs and driving Land Rovers. It certainly wasn't the age of unemployed, single guys who pick up and move to another country on little more than a whim. People who were 30 were stable, reliable, past their younger days of immaturity and spontineity. If you asked the 16 year old me what I would be like at 30, I can guarantee that the younger I would have answered something about a good job, a nice house and a Land Rover.

30 came and went, and pretty soon 40 will be upon me. No house, no job, no car, no family and probably little chance of any of those things in the future, save (HOPEFULLY, FINGERS CROSSED) the job. And while the 16 year old me probably never would have believed it, I'm pretty happy about it.

Frankly, after visiting with more friends over the weekend, none of my friends really seem that old to me, even the ones with families and jobs and nice cars and houses. I don't think that people nowadays are less mature than previous generations, though maybe that is the case. More likely though, I think that young people always view old people as being mature, boring, responsible and dull. When really, people are who they are, no matter what age they are.

So 40 is creeping up on me, and I'm not too upset about it. I looked at my 80 year old father, who is still enjoying life and love, spending nights out and getting in a fair bit of travel. Hopefully he will still be with us for many more years.

And hopefully, by the grace of God or Allah or good genes or a steadily improving diet and a little exercise, I'll still be going strong by 80, which means I still have more than 40 years of life ahead me (hopefully much more). And if the next 40 years can be as cool as the last 10 have been, that seems like a really good deal to me, Even if I never do get my house, my family, my excellent job and my Land Rover.

Posted by GregW 06:45 Archived in Canada Tagged armchair_travel Comments (1)

Bone Chiller

Why Canadians Fly South For the Winter

sunny -10 °C

It’s a mostly clear day, the blue sky creating a false sense that the day is a good one, until you walk outside. The sun may be shining, but the temperature is -10 Celsius, with a bone-chilling wind cuts right through your skin and chills your insides. I tug on the zipper of my jacket and hunker down, trying to cover as much of my neck and chin as possible.

Just two days ago the weather was warmer, 2 degrees above freezing, causing the 30 centimeters of snow on the ground to start to melt, which mixed with road salt and dirt to create a dull gray slush on all the sidewalks. Just two days ago, the citizens of Toronto were hopping gingerly over giant puddles of slush and water, trying not to get their pants legs wet.

Today, with the temperature dropping down below freezing, the slush has frozen into a uneven and slipper carpet on the sidewalks. The citizens shuffle along slowly on the icy surface, trying not to slip and fall onto the hard ice.

I drop my head and walk against the headwind, returning a movie to Blockbuster before heading into the local pub for brunch. After finishing up my lunch, I put back on my heavy coat, gloves and hat and leave the warmth of the pub to face again the blistering wind.


I return home and endeavor to spend the rest of the day inside watching TV. At 5 o’clock the PBS station from Buffalo is showing an episode of Pilot Guides (called Globe Trekker in the USA) where the host is travelling Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada and Dominica. I see the blue ocean, beautiful beaches, colonial towns and people wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops.

I think of my time down in Trinidad and Tobago earlier this year, and my father, who is currently down in Florida, and wonder why all of us Canadians don’t spend our winters somewhere sunnier and warm than chilly Canada.


Posted by GregW 14:57 Archived in Canada Tagged armchair_travel Comments (3)

South African Springboks and Their Relationship to Burma

How watching the Rugby World Cup got me thinking about if I should visit Burma or not?

sunny 20 °C

Bad weekend to be English.


I just finished watching the Brazilian Grand Prix, where F1 rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton suffered both a wide corner and motor trouble, and couldn’t close out his campaign to be the first black driver to win the F1 series, and the first English driver to win the F1 title since Nigel Mansell back in 1992.

Yesterday the final for the Rugby World Cup was held in Paris, France. The South African Springboks ended up beating the English side 15 points to 6. I don’t know much about Rugby, having my only exposure to it during a week long lesson during grade 12 gym class back in high school. Despite that, I paid $20 to watch the game at Scallywag’s, a bar down the street from my apartment and renowned in Toronto for showing “European” sports, especially on Saturday mornings when the premiership soccer is being played.

The bar was packed. I arrived at 12:20 for a game that wasn’t going to start until 3:00, and couldn’t get a seat. About 20 minutes after I arrived the bar locked the doors, already at capacity. The crowd was a good mix of English and South African fans. I couldn’t help but notice that the South African fans were much younger and more rambunctious than the older, staid English fans, but that probably says a lot more about immigration patterns in Canada than any knock against the English for being overly reserved.


Interestingly, watching South Africa during the game yesterday got me thinking about Burma. Obviously Burma has been in the news a lot recently, and I have recently been reading a book called The Trouser People: A Story of Burma in the Shadow of the Empire by Andrew Marshall. It details Mr. Marshall’s tour through the country, and while I’m not done it yet, it is a very interesting read.

The question that it raises is what to do about Burma, of course. Since 1962 the country of Burma has been under undemocratic military rule. In 1989 the military junta ruling the country “changed” the name of the country to Mynamar, though many international governments have refused to recognize this name as being official. In 1990, the country held democratic elections which led to the overwhelming election of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi. The SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) annulled the results and maintained power.

The international community is against the military rule in Burma, and the recent protests and resulting crack-down by the junta has been widely condemned. The USA has had sanctions in place against the junta since 2003, and those coupled with European sanctions have resulted in the withdrawal from Burma of most U.S. and many European companies. However, trade is limited between Europe, the USA and Burma, and the two largest trading partners of Burma are China and India, who at present still have close relations and no economic embargos against the country.

Embargos, of course, were a large measure of the actions that the rest of the world took against South Africa back when apartheid was in force. Even the sporting community didn’t participate with South Africa. The National Rugby team of South Africa was banned for playing International Rugby from 1981 until the end of apartheid. Reinstated in 1992, the Springboks were defeated 27-24 by New Zealand on 15th August of that year in their first game back after their readmission.

The question faced to those who travel, of course, is should I travel to Burma? Reaction has been mixed, with some saying that we should boycott the country while others have said travel will be a good thing for those who live in the country.

I am not sure how to feel about calls for sanctions and embargos. I'm not sure how to feel about sanctions. Certainly it seems that we shouldn't do things that support abusive governments, however sanctions against countries like Cuba or South Africa apparently did little to stem remove the governments there. In addition, the question remains whether my buying $2 worth of street food while in a country is the same as French oil company Total S.A. operating the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma.

In fact, Sanctions may have the opposite effect, in slowing down change. In a 2004 speech delivered by Dave Steward on behalf of former South African President FW de Klerk to the Institut Choiseul in Paris, it is stated that, "Economic growth and international cultural influences are often powerful forces for change. It accordingly makes little sense to try to cripple the economies of targeted states or to isolate their citizens from positive cultural influences. To the extent that economic sanctions retarded economic growth and development in South Africa they also served to slow down powerful underlying forces that were in fact already changing the country. The cultural and academic sanctions that were imposed against South Africa also served only to inhibit one of the most powerful forces for change in the country."

The speech concludes that while "sanctions were certainly a factor that the South African government had to consider very carefully when considering its options," that they were ultimately "not by any means the main factor in our decision to embark on fundamental reform and often undermined the real forces for change." "few governments are likely to bow to sanctions that they believe will lead to their destruction," the report says, stating that it is "essential to identify the reasonable interests of targeted governments and to devise approaches to reassure them that such interests will not be jeopardised," i.e. working with the government to elict change, rather than just using sanctions as a "blunt weapon."

I'm certainly against supporting the Junta, but I'm not certain that sanctions are the right route. Certainly any sort of sanctions without China or India on board seem pointless, as the amount of trade other countries have with Burma is so small.

And as was stated in the de Klerk speech, there may be benefit to exposing citizens to "positive cultural influences," which could come with increased international traffic in the country.

I recently read the book Brandenburg Gate by Henry Porter, which is a spy thriller set during the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany. While a fiction novel, Mr. Porter took pains to ensure that the conditions inside East Germany were portrayed accurately during the time. While pressure from the west and Russia to be more open were certainly part of what brought down the East German government, and led eventually to even mother Russia giving up communism, much of the pressure to bring down the wall came from inside the country. The people of East Germany had had enough, and they protested in increasing numbers until the government couldn’t resist any longer.

It got me thinking whether any change comes from outside of the country, or if revolution has to start from within. Does revolution demand that a critical mass of people rise up and demand change that the government can no longer ignore it. It appears that it was internal pressures that brought down the Berlin Wall and that ended apartheid in South Africa. Cuba has resisted change for years because there is little internal pressure for change, though that could change once Castro dies.

Viva la Revelution.JPG

As Peter Gabriel sings in the song Biko, “you can blow out a candle but you can’t blow out a fire, once the flame begins to catch the winds only take it higher.”

If change needs to come from within, then what is the best way for us on the outside to effect that change? Should we stay away from Burma, or are we better off to go there and experience it for ourselves, and in the visit perhaps influence those inside the country to rise up?

What is the best way for those of us here to make change?

Posted by GregW 11:22 Archived in Canada Tagged sports armchair_travel Comments (2)

Our Labour Day has come and gone

Round-up of various junk to head us into September

sunny 26 °C

Labour Day is a holiday in North America on the first Monday in September to celebrate the "working man," much as May Day is celebrated in Europe. This Monday is Labour Day, and while I should probably be marching in a parade to glorify unions or increase the visibility of the Communist Party of Canada, I instead find myself sitting outside on a patio enjoying a pint of Canadian made beer. At the very least, I'm drinking local, right?

Labour Day is also the unofficial end of summer here in Canada and the USA. All the high school and university students will be back at school on Tuesday (or pretty soon after), and all their parents, who might have taken extended vacations in August, will be back at the office, ready to blow out the remainder of their 2007 budgets before the 2008 fiscal year starts.

So, my pretty lazy August, with 2 weeks of vacay in Europe and two weeks of catching up on adminstrative duties, is pretty soon to come to an end. I'll be back on the road and back working hard before you know it. So I thought I would take a few moments to catch you all up on a few travel stories and other stories of interest I've run across the past few weeks.


My recent trip to Europe is over, and what started with me waxing poetic about bears and how I felt like a were-bear in London ended with me receiving a bear. In Amsterdam, myself and my friends ended up staying at the Renaissance Amsterdam, which is part of the Marriott Chain, and therefore willing to treat me like a VIP for all my business travel. As a gift, they gave me a nice little stuffed toy. And what exactly was that stuffed toy...


A bear, of course.

I see a bad moon rising.


Firstly, those who are regulary readers may realize that I suffered a small bit on my attempt to climb Africa's highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro back in 2005. Brought down by High Altitude Pulmonary Edeme (HAPE), new research is suggesting I could have had another ally against this scourge. Specifically, the little blue pill that is engorging bank CEOs and making bank CEO's wives around the world sweat - Viagra. The CDC, among others, is reporting that Viagra can"selectively lower pulmonary artery pressure, with less effect on systemic blood pressure. Preliminary studies suggest that this class of drug may prove useful in prevention and treatment of HAPE." However, a correspondent for Outside Magazine, Nick Heil reported that the effects of the Viagra on his, ummm, netherlands, created more discomfort than the altitude did. It's hard to climb to base came three when you already are carrying a tent with you, I suppose.


In case you are looking for something more interesting to read than me talking about bears and Viagra, you might want to check out the "travel carnival" at Travel Minx. They post weekly "carnivals" of the best of travel blogging, and my entry on getting away from it all in Tanzania was recently featured in one of their weekly submissions. It looks like it may be a few weeks before I get on the road again, so hopefully this will keep any travel story reading addicts calm and composed until I can provide something interesting to read soon.


Posted by GregW 15:04 Archived in Canada Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight

Reflections on 2006 as it comes to a close

sunny 7 °C
View Work Trips 2005 - 2006 on GregW's travel map.

It is almost the end of the year, so I will say a Merry Christmas (or whatever other holiday you might be celebrating at this time of year) and a happy new year to all you.

Here's some images to get you in the mood.

2006 11 22..as Tree.JPG
Christmas Tree on the side of Macy's, 34th Street, NYC, USA

2006 11 22.. Lights.JPG
Tavern on the Green, Central Park, NYC, USA

2005 10 24 E Moscow.JPG
Some park in Moscow, Russia

Regular readers will note a link at the top of the entry to a map. The boys at Travellerspoint have added a mapping feature. So my future blogs (as well as my past ones, if you want to go back and read) will include maps for your education and viewing pleasure.

A short statistical analysis of my travel year. I need to keep track of my time spent out of Canada for tax purposes, and as such I can say that I spent 215 days of 365 possible (58.9%) of my time outside of Canada this year. Sadly, most of it was in less than glamorous New Jersey. I also flew a total of 42,985 miles this year.

Anyway, this entry is really boring, eh? Next week I'm off to Panama for a week, so hopefully I'll have something nicer to write about. As my last entry of the year, though, I do vow to make a New Years Resolution.

I resolve to NOT write any more about how crappy I find Newark airport. It seems like it's almost all I wrote about this year. So no more next year on Newark.

Of course, I just found out today that I could be in Atlanta next year for a spell. Have you heard the horror stories about Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta? You probably will...


Posted by GregW 18:18 Archived in USA Tagged armchair_travel Comments (4)

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