Category Archives: Places Closer to home

Africa is calling me back

I’m homesick.  That’s weird … because I am home.  Canada is my home now.  So why am I homesick and for where?  I was born in England ……. nah…… not homesick for England. 

I grew up in South Africa – and that’s the problem.  I have this sudden longing for the bush.  They say you can take the girl out of the bush but you can’t take the bush out of the girl. 

There’s something healing about being out in the African bush – and yet it can be a harsh place.  Nature rules and there are the hunters and the hunted, the victors and the victims.  To see a lioness stalking her prey is thrilling and yet some part of you always wants the poor antelope or zebra to get away.  Run! Run! You feel like shouting as the poor buck zig zags across the veldt in panic.  The lioness is clever, fast and strong and the antelope seldom wins.

On my last trip to the bush in Sabi Sands Game Reserve we came across a huge pride of lion after the kill.  The huge black-maned male could barely move he was so full.  He lay with his belly distended, his paws flopping in the air, right in the middle of the track, dozing in the midday sun. 

Oh I ate too much

His pride lay around him licking and cleaning and grooming and you could still see the traces of blood on their whiskers and chins.  It was a hot day and our ranger knew that they would not move for hours but they would be thirsty later on.  We would return after sunset.

 Sure enough once the sun had gone down and that strangely fast coldness had descended on the bush we found the pride again – this time stirring from their slumber.  As if in answer to an unspoken signal they slowly made their way to their feet and one by one ambled off down the track.  Our ranger told us there was a water hole some way in the distance and we followed in the landrover with the large floodlight on the front.  The light did not seem to bother them.  From time to time one of them would stop and turn back, gazing at us, eyes lighting up in the headlamps of the vehicle.  More curious than threatening.

 Finally they reached the water-hole.  All the females lined up – like a Radio City chorus line – along the edge of the waterhole.  With beautiful symmetry they hunched down on their powerful forequarters and daintily lapped up gallons and gallons of water.

We sat in the landrover – speaking in whispers – thrilled and awed by Nature’s beauty.

Heads down ladies

Oh yes – I AM homesick for the bush.

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I ♥ NYC

If you like Attitude (capital A please note) take yourself on a trip to New York.  Yes people.  New York New York – the Big Apple – the city that never sleeps.  Here’s an idea.  Don’t stay in Times Square or in the Village or on Park Avenue.  If you want to meet the real New Yorkers go stay on the upper West Side where people actually live and play and shop and go buy kosher bagels and yummy lox cream cheese.  These people take life seriously and don’t mind giving you their opinion.  Take Nick – well Big Nick as he is known.  His restaurant/diner whatever is in the ‘hood.  To find a table there you might have to take a wander through the kitchen and past the storeroom.  This ain’t no Starbucks and Nick makes that abundently clear with a large sign “No laptops – this is a restaurant, not a library”.

Now there's telling you!

New York was full of surprises.  The subway was amazingly efficient, easy and cheap and we used it until late at night.  Wall Street was so tiny – disappointing really considering its influence.  Times Square was unbelievably tacky and somehow strangely thrilling.  A visit to the mega store My American Girl was extremely disturbing – they specialise in expensive 18 inch dolls chosen to look like the little girl owner with matching outfits and even a hair salon upstairs – for the dolls not the kids.  Yes grown women paid to stand behind a counter and braid a doll’s hair or give it a manicure or pedicure. Bizarre.   I found it rather sickening in today’s climate of starving children in Somalia – but I grow morose…..

The best part of New York was Little Italy.  Now shrunk to just one street – but what a street.  We nearly didn’t find it but after wandering around Chinatown and getting directions a couple of times we turned the corner and there it stood – oh wow.  Pretty lights in the street, tables and chairs laid up with check cloths and candles and even serenading musicians.  A wonderful evening.

So go to New York and enjoy all of it – its vulgarity, its charm, its vibe and mostly its people – it should be called the Big Heart rather than the Big Apple.

Roots – Malta style

Trish with our taxi driver Chris outside the hospital in Malta where they were both born

Despite being covered in tattoos and only having one tooth – Chris is truly the best taxi driver in Malta. 

We had decided not to take any of the shore excursions in Malta as this was a very special stop for myself and my sister.  She was born there back in the 50’s (not sure if I have permission to disclose the actual year!) while I was just a toddler.  Our father had been stationed there with the Royal Navy.  We had a bunch of old photos and a vague idea of where to go to see special family places. 

We decided that the best thing to do was to hire a taxi for 5 hours.  This was very reasonable for the 4 of us – less than 100 Euros.  The taxi concierge waved Chris over and told us not to be put off by his appearance.  Really he did look a bit like a Maltese Hells Angel.  Battered face, arms like sides of ham covered in tattoos – and that one lonely tooth.  Turns out he was a big teddy bear with a heart bigger than his biceps.  He took charge of the “investigation” and wasted no time driving down the narrow streets regularly stopping to shout for help from passers by.  “Hey Charlie!” he would shout – followed by a long animated conversation in Maltise.  A few blocks later he would wind the window down again – “Hey Charlie!”…. another discussion.  Naively I asked if all the men in Malta were called Charlie.  “Yes” he replied “ or Joey!” 

Other words of wisdom from Chris included the recommendation never to ask a teenager or a young person anything.  If you want to find out something in Malta ask an older person.  The older men were always Charlie and the younger men were Joeys.  True to what Chris had said –  the Joeys knew nothing.

So Grannie came out to help

Things got really interesting when we were trying to find the house where we lived.  All I had was an old photo of myself as a baby and a Maltise lady who was the landlady.  “OK, wait here,” said Chris and with that he knocked on the door.  Before we knew it we were surrounded by about 20 people all from the street, all looking at the photo, passing it around, offering advice.  Maybe it’s this one’s cousin.  No, no – it’s this one’s Aunt.  Let’s get granny out – she is in the back room having a snooze.  No really she wouldn’t want to miss this.  She knows everything.  She’s 92.

Before we knew it we had a small crowd.  The people from next door joined in and they called a passer-by to come over and give their opinion.  The photo was passed from one to another with much excited shouting in Maltise.

And then there were more

Apart from all the “Down Memory Lane” experiences we also spent time down at the harbour famous for its prettily painted fishing boats and quay side markets.  Another must is the walled city of Mdina which has been carefully preserved.  We really only scratched the surface when we were there and truly the island warrants at least a week to enjoy all that it has to offer.

  The Maltese people are so friendly, speak excellent English and as part of the EU are now revitalising their island with new public transit.  Having said that many people, both locals and visitors, are sad to see the end of the famous yellow buses which have been operating in Malta since the 1950’s. 

Goodbye Yellow Bus

Our trip to Malta ended with bear hugs from Chris, new photos of old places to include in the family history and a determination to return to Malta for a longer stay.

In our own backyard

Beautiful Lac Beauvert

I had the bear spray firmly tucked down the back of my shorts – just in case – and couldn’t quite believe I was doing what I said I would never do…. hiking in the mountains in bear country. Well Jasper that is. And I am glad I did. What a paradise. I am so used to finding idyllic destinations after hours of flying time from Calgary and here on the banks of the Athabasca River is a retreat that I think Europeans treasure far more than we do.
All around me at the Jasper Park Lodge foreign accents prevailed. Germans, Brits, French – out hiking, canoeing and enjoying stunning sunsets.

The Lodge is situated on beautiful Lac Beauvert and started life as a collection of tents in 1915. It was taken over by CN Rail in 1921 and the tents were converted to log cabins – some of which still stand today. The Lodge has enjoyed a number of distinguished visitors over the years including Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and Jimmy Stewart – as well as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The Queen Mother obviously loved Jasper as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited the Lodge in 2005.

I had the best sleeps there with windows wide open and not a sound at night. The air is crisp and clean and those Fairmont beds are the best. For an authentic Canadian experience in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage site you cannot do better than the Jasper Park Lodge. I loved it and will return for rest and renewal when the rat race in Calgary gets too much.