Newfoundland, Canada (2): Earth’s mantle and MOOOSE!

22-23.04 Gross Morne National Park, Labrador: Touching the earth’s Mantle

Since the Redhead/Dutchy duo proved a house on fire, Alana and I decided to head to Gross Morne National Park together. Labrador is a big island; it is a 13 hours drive from St. Johns to the ferry on the other end. No trains and only one bus per day, so we needed a rental car.

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Gross Morne (2,000 square km!) is one of the only places in the world where the earth’s mantle [and deep ocean crust] lies exposed on the surface. This is due to unique ‘continental drift’; when tectonic plates (in Dutch: aardplaten) collide, they push up and form a mountain [or an ocean if both dive down]. In Gross Morne, not the crest but the earth’s mantle got pushed up and flipped over, just like a wood chip shaves off from wood. The mantle starts at 30,000 meters below the surfac, so this event is a very rare. It consists of a high concentration of magnesium and heavy metals, which is toxic for normal life forms. Its presence forced of an ‘extraterrestrial’ micro-ecosystem. In other words, Alana and I had found E.T.’s home ūüôā

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Gross Morne is even more spectacular because it has additionally had glacial activity recently. It still has glaciers and glacier valleys, fjords and steep cliffs. We took maximum advantage and packed our days with hiking and road trips.

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Our base, Woody Point, was coincidentally celebrating their annual culture festival. We got it al;¬†country & western, jazz, poetry, limericks and stand-up comedy. Embarrassing detail….Newfoundlands is very difficult to understand. I thought it was simply my [poor] English level but then Alana confessed she struggled too. Big relief!

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24.04 Gross Morne National Park, Labrador: MOOSE!!!

We were warned over [and over] for moose on the road. Hooding one can be lethal. Fortunately and unfortunately, we hadn’t even seen a single hoof print. Until I spotted one in the field from the corner of my eye. I was steering on a very curvy dike. I saw the moose, shouted ‘MOOOOOSE!!!’ and instantly slammed the brakes. ‘CARRRRR!’ Alana screamed. I yelled back ‘NOOOOOO…MOOOOOSE!’. Then her words sank in. Our vehicle was [a tat] over the middle line. Whoa, I quickly recovered, turned the car and stopped [safely].

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The moose looked different than I had imagined but then again I had never seen one in the wild. Alana added that white moose -which ours was- were rare. I had also expected bigger antlers but reasoned that it was likely that females had¬†smaller ones so this should then be a female. Anyhow, who cares, we had seen our moose. Right? Wrong! My moose turned out to be a caribou. A caribou is not much more then an ‘upgraded’ deer. Can you imagine I almost tolled the car for that? Moohoo!

Still pumped up with adrenaline after our (van) dike adventure (gotta admire that word play, right!), we thought to try and top it by hitchhiking to the ferry in stead of taking the public bus. It was a 5 hours drive, the island had only one road to the ferry and we were two chicks at the side of the road, one being a redhead. How difficult could it be?

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We started off well [warning: sarcasm!]; Alana kindly declined a request to ‘babtise a pick-up truck’, and yes, it is really was what you are thinking, seriously! I had found a mother and daughter that were willing to take us so we quickly got in their car. Hasta la vista, pervert! The ladies proved great tour guides; they stopped at all cool¬†places for pictures. But when they dropped us off an hour later we had still another 4 hours ahead…

Our second ride took much longer to secure. Eventually, two guys drove us to their town 2 hours ahead. Still not at the ferry¬†yet. The bus was on our tail. We ended¬†our hitchhike adventure. It didn’t make sense to risk missing the ferry. The two guys proposed to have a beer and play pool to kill the remaining waiting time. Who said hitchhiking¬†wasn’t a ton of fun?

We caught the ferry and set sail for Novo Scotia. We left without having seen one Newfoundland or Labrador dog… Pitty!

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Newfoundland, Canada (1): Whisteling whales and icy icebergs

19.05 Amsterdam: Thank you, Dutch Rail!

It was tough to leave family and friends but it was time for the second leg of my tour. I had a long journey ahead, with special thanks to NS, our Dutch railway company. I had found a dirt cheap flight from London Gatwick to St. Johns, Canada. My outbound flight from Amsterdam was at 6 AM and it normaly takes only 1,5 hours. You know our country is tiny; Den Helder in the North to Vaals in the South in just over 3 hours, 4 with traffic). I, however, had to sleep-over at Schiphol Airport Departures area since our railways doesn’t run night trains for us, Southerners whereas the Dutch in the West have a superb night schedule.¬†Boohoo!!

Hey, it was swell to spend a night with drug addicts and prostitutes. Joking!!! I just had to write this to help stamp out this international misunderstanding. Yes, soft drugs is legal in the NL [in small quantities] but really, don’t expect to find addicts at every corner. Actually, I read somewhere that the NL has less drugs issues than other [comparable] countries. So give us a break, please!

20.05 Signal Peak in St. Johns, Labrador: It’s a whale, it’s a whale!!

I reached St. Johns, the largest town on the Island of Labrador in Newfoundland, around noon. After more than 24 hours of non-stop travel, I had to take a tough decision: to sleep or not to sleep. The Jet Lag Prevention Protocol stipulates to persevere until the early evening but I felt really tired. I decided to ignore the fatigue, put on my hiking boots and set course to the famous Signal Hill trail. The reward came instantly in the form of stunning scenery.

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At Signal Peak’s summit I noticed some movement in the bay deep down below. A fish, I thought. Correction, a big fish! I thought: wow, that is a really, really, really big fish!! Then, gasping in disbelief, I realised it was… a humpback whale! I couldn’t help it and shrieked ‘whale, whale, whale!!’. I now understand that I may have come across as a person in need of immediate help. The local couple that rushed to the ‘rescue’ looked a little vexed initially but then laughed about my bona fide excitement.

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It seemed to be my lucky day. Only minutes later I spotted a flock of the rarest species. Their Latin name is Homo Sapiens. Lol! They had found a bald headed eagle sitting on a nest. Wow, now that is a big bird!

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When arriving in St. Johns’ I felt strangely unadjusted, you know just not in traveling mode. Could it be that one’s ‘globetrotter vibe’ could already distinguish after 2 weeks at home and/or 1 business meeting? I had read up on travelers that couldn’t adjust¬†to¬†their normal lives anymore but I was experiencing the opposite; homesick upon arrival. Great start, miss van Dijk..

I was pondering upon this topic on that first hike when I felt my enthusiasm re-ignite concurrently with each curve of the trail, view point and wild life spotted. My body and soul re calibrated, got back in balance. I was hungry for new adventures. Tired? Heck no!!!

21.05 Atlantic Ocean: Icy icebergs from heaven

The first adventure planned was a kayaking tour but I had a change of hearts. I decided to be sensible; the odds to spot a whale were close to nil as they hadn’t arrived from their migration yet. The nearest iceberg was 50 nautical miles (92 km) off shore, so not kayaking there! And I was weary about the water temperature; the Titanic sank close to St. Johns and I remember that water was 4 degrees so any splashing could lead to common colds, pneumonia or worse. So I booked a boat instead. Better!

Alana, an amazing young Canadian redhead, joined me. She praised icebergs and without exaggeration, icebergs are BEAUTIFUL! They are in my top 5 of most awesome sights. They seem to be sent straight from heaven with their bright baby blue color. (Scientific note: the blue color is caused by the refraction of the light in the air pockets that resides inside the ice mass. The air gets stuck when fresh snow compresses and transforms into new [iceberg] ice. Glaciers grow in the same manner as a matter of fact.

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There is nothing heavenly about Canada’s National dish, poutine, which is chips topped with melted cheese -so far so good- and… gravy (in Dutch: vleesjus). Jikes! Okay, poutine is perfect at 3 in the morning after a heavy night [because then all fatty foods taste divine, right?].

I had ordered mine for lunch time. Wrong timing! I tried to save the meal with a cheese top-up to mask the taste of gravy. The waiter returned my plate with more cheese… and more gravy, transforming the dish to a gravy soup with soaked fries. Yuck! Even Alana agreed (and my apologies to all [Canadians] who feel insulted by my poutine review).

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European Union (EU): Returning to the Centre of my Universe

4-20.05: How I ended up visiting ‘half’ of the EU on my PRS (Pampering & Recovery Stop-over)

St. Petersburg had been my final destination in the North East Corner. Next corner on the itinerary was the North West, taking me to Canada and Alaska (US). Where would a Dutchy stop-over when traveling from West Russia to East Canada? Let me think… Obviously… the Netherlands! The ‘Corners of my World’ tour brought me back to the Center of my Universe; my parental place in Helmond.

I¬†somehow managed to visit ‘half of the European Union’ in just over two weeks. Germany sneaked in first because its airport in Dusseldorf is simply the nearest to my birth place. My mom and I got the best welcoming committee ever; my nephew and niece came running up to us carrying roses. So here’s to the next person who will pick me up from whichever airport: try beating that ūüėČ

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The Netherlands was my target country so of course made it to the list. My visit coincided with my the birthday of my best friend, Joanne’s. She has uninterruptedly invited me for her birthdays during my residency in Dubai. This year, when she had never ever expected I could come, I showed up. Surprise!

My Dutch stop-over was a fabulous relax-and-pamper visit. Days flew meeting up with friends and family. I spend days with my horse, Adriaan. He -and I know in correct English it should be ‘it’ but he’s too important to be called an ‘it’!- is a 28 years old, gorgeous Haflinger horse). He still loves to go for a ride, that is if it is not too hot or cold or if his muscles don’t agree for which ever other reason. So on most trails I end up walking next to him but I don’t mind. He has been my best buddy since 1993. I can assure you that he knows quite some stories that no one else knows. Here’s hoping he will Live for many more years in good health.

The third country I visited on my stop-over was Belgium. It made it because I had a business meeting in its¬†capital. Brussels honestly impressed me; it lives up to its reputation as Capital of Europe. I heard Flemish and French, loads of English but¬†also Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese/Japanese and some languages that I didn’t quite recognise (so I guess I haven’t traveled enough yet ūüôā ). Its city center is drop-dead gorgeous with old buildings alternating nicely with cosy alleys packed with bars and restaurants. It could be¬†an¬†ideal European place to live after buzzing Dubai.

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I did had a minor disaster in Belgium. I warn upfront; ¬†it was a women’s thingy… So, men that are not up for such¬†‘crap’, please stop reading now.


The issue was simple; my combination of top-and-bra was too much¬†‘push up’ for my liking for a¬†[business] meeting. I wanted my counterparts to¬†focus on¬†my¬†words rather than… well… you get the idea! I raced to the shops nearby but was¬†unsuccessful, no bra shops around,¬†well, except¬†an¬†adult shop (in Dutch: sex shop). I decided to check it out -although such places normally sell ‘ups’ not ‘downs’. I¬†walked and asked -in Dutch- ‘Hello, do you sell normal bra’s? The sales woman shouted back that she only spoke French. O dear, a prelude for ¬†upcoming disaster…

I tried again -in my best French- ‘je voudrais d’acheter un bra normale’, which translates as ‘I would like to buy a normal bra’, although the word ‘bra’ was still in English because I didn’t know this word in French. Of course she still didn’t understand me. So, I had to resorted to a technique that I had become good at in China and Japan; body language. I cupped my breasts, pushed them down and said ‘I need push-down’. The lady expressed her outrage¬†in French. ‘O no! They are beautiful! You need more push up!’ I tried to explain that I had a business meeting and I would therefore feel more comfortable showing less. She shook her head vigorously and said that, ESPECIALLY for important meetings, women should always have¬†more.

We went back and forth (‘Push up!’. ‘No, really, push down!’. ‘Mais non, push up, up, up!). Our both cheeks had turned red and we started to get rather annoyed with each other.¬†¬†Luckily, we found an item that worked for me. She almost refused to sell it, but then sighed and probably¬†thought that Dutchies are crazy creatures. Whereas for me… I was simply content that my situation was managed.

(No…. no selfi of the push up nor push down!)

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PS: For those counting, the fourth and last EU country that I visited was the UK because I had a connecting flight in London Gatwick (more in my next blog).

Moscow & St. Petersburg, Russia: Mrs’ van Dijk reunited

28.04-4.05: Moscow and St. Petersburg; culture, culture, culture and churches

I reached Moscow ten days after boarding the Transsiberian Express in Vladivostok. I was dirty and dead tired. All I wanted was a steaming hot shower, a strong coffee and a soft bed. The fancy hotel that I had booked to spoil my mom and sister should offer all of the above but it was still many hours before formal check-in time. I nevertheless went down for a baggage drop-off and guess what? The hospitable hotel hostess turned a blind eye and checked me in. I guess I must have smelled like a pig…

Since my mum and sister wouldn’t arrive before the evening I had ample time for ‘scheduled maintenance’, a synonym for a beauty retreat in the vocabulary of my friend Marion Corbet. It was amazing how good it felt to be clean again. And how quick human batteries can recharge; within the shortest time I bubbled with energy once more. Ready for new craziness ūüôā

Linda dancing

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I had invited my mom and sister to Moscow for two reasons. The first was to let them experience the dynamics of globe trotting and to become part of my adventure. They have been my biggest fans and support on my Corners tour and have supported me in tough times during the journey [and before]. Secondly, I wanted to restore our tradition of ‘mother-and-daughters-day’. This tradition is sweet and simple: every year (at a minimum) we take some time out to spent together. Just us lot. No intrusions allowed, niece/nephew calamities excluded. Our annual event had been on the back burner since I moved to Dubai to all our displeasure. Mom en Peggy accepted my proposal without thinking, which is why -after a lengthy visa process- we re-united at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

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I know every family is different and that relationships between mothers and daughters and between sisters can range from being great to gruesome or even broken. We belong to the first category. My mom, sister and I are close. I can’t recall any issues or disagreements, honestly. I had been solo on the road for several months so it felt like a warm bath to be in each other’s company. No distractions, no next appointments; fantastic! We talked and talked and… talked and went from the one coffee to the other to food breaks and a drink now and then. Mom’s bags bulged out with sweets and savory that would have fed us without any need for other meals, which Peggy and I loved. Oh, and when we weren’t indulging, we of course explored the magnificent Moscow; we went to the Red Square, the Kremlin, the Armoury, took hop on-off buses and much more. The Armoury impressed us the most; it is definitely the place to be for any good old fashioned jewel thief!

Our discussions revolved mostly about life and love and [remotely] related matters. Probably those are not too appealing for non-van Dijks, but, more importantly, they are strictly restricted to the Clan van Dijk. What happens in the family stays in the family. The rest of the blog is therefore pictures only, without comment ūüėČ Here is hoping you will enjoy nevertheless!

Moscow

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St. Petersburg

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Transsiberian Express, Russia: Chug, chug says the little train

19-28.04: Vladivostok to Moscow… a helluva ride

I have been thinking long and hard on what to write about the Transsiberian Express (or Sibi for insiders). For starters because this train actually doesn’t exist. Anyone expecting to board a ‘Polar Express’ train as in the eponymous movies will¬†be in for a disillusionment. There is no Sibi brand; no trains covered in Sibi stickers, no dedicated radio adds, website or ticket booths to get you all mellowed up for this mighty experience. For Russians, trains get you from A to B, ¬†if -but mostly when- the airfares are too high. People thought I was mental for traveling by train for pleasure.

So why all the fuss? Well, the Transsiberian line happens to be the longest national railway link in the world. It runs from Vladivostok in the East to St. Petersburg in the North West, covering 9,289 km and 7 time zone in 8 days (!!).

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Once a week there is a direct train but I wouldn’t recommend it¬†to anyone -if I would recommend Sibi all together. That would be¬†mental and physical torture (more below), but more importantly, it defeats the purpose of the Sibi experience because half¬†of the fun is to disembark and explore the Russian territory¬†across.

(Vladivostoc)

I myself underestimated the importance of the hop on/offs. I was limited in time due to my Moscowegian deadline so I could only hop-off twice. Russia punished me badly for exchanging Sibi days for Japan, I had 2 very, very long legs ahead of me…

My Sibi experience started troublesome. I almost missed the train in Vladivostok. I wasn’t late (really, I wasn’t!) – the train left early I guess. Guess? Yes, I guess, because Russia doesn’t do English (editorial: not even in Moscow and St. Petersburg). It is therefore¬†the absolute winner of my Corner’s Award for ‘Most difficult countries to travel in/ biggest language barrier)’ with special recognition for the absence of¬†English signs and English speakers.

Can you picture me, Linda, in a confined area for 8 days with NO ONE to talk to? I was thankful to meet the ‘three Olegs’. Two of them were on Sibi too. They had just started to learn English so I instantly promoted to English tutor, yes, a Dutchy can be a tutor too (in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king…). We covered thousand-and-one topics simply because at some point we would get stuck on a trivial word.

The occasional chats with the Olegs were basically the only time killer on the train. Normally, one can enjoy the scenery from the window but the Russian¬†landscape was pretty boring. My timing wasn’t the best; spring hadn’t really started, so¬†the land -mostly plains and modest hills- was still dry and empty. I can’t share the views because the¬†windows of the train were too dirty to snap pretty pictures.

The¬†next best time killer would have been… the Internet. Not in Siberia though. Internet + Siberia = NO, or better, NOOO!!! The odd minute here and there was insufficient to browse, let alone place a¬†Skype call. TV? NOPE. ¬†One channel and Russian only. Books/e-readers? Another NO. My travel bag only fit one¬†book but if when reading ’24-7′ such book is never thick enough. The e-reads that I had downloaded on my¬†stolen iPhone somehow hadn’t sync-ed in the Cloud so weren’t accessible on my new phone.

So what to do then? Food?¬†Nope-nope. I knew that Sibi was¬†notorious for bad food so¬†I had stocked up to circumvent their poor catering. My bag bulged with instant noodles since I knew boiling water was available on the train. Great idea… until I found out that my noodles needed 5 minutes of solid boiling. The hot water got them semi-soft – at best. Disgusting! Boy, I wished their labels would have been¬†in English so that I would have known that in the store…

Final attempt to¬†kill time: sleeping. And this was… another NO. The bed was short and narrow (maybe 185x 50 cm). My effective width halved because of a broken ‘fall protection handle’ in my [top] bed. I toss-n-turn pretty badly so I kept my bum frantically pressed against the wall. ¬†Not the best position for a relaxing nap. What¬†also didn’t help (sarcasm!) was the softness of the bed; ¬†a table with a cloth has more bedspring then the¬†Sibi bed.

So, the bed wasn’t the place to be. The¬†first night I was even afraid to jump in for a whole other reason. I shared the berth with three potent Russian knuckle draggers (in Dutch: mannen die me mijn botten met 1¬†vinger konden breken). The berth had an¬†inside lock and I pictured¬†what they could do to a¬†woman asleep. Nothing happened of course,¬†I got out alive and unharmed. Hurt, yes, but that was 100% bed-related.

The last NO was the shower. Actually, I can’t complain about the shower because there was none. Baby wipes to the rescue once more.

Irkutsk

Three nights later, I reached Irkutsk at 5 AM. I had 17 hours to spend¬†and aimed for¬†Lake Baikal. This is the world’s largest fresh water lake which completely freezes over in winter. When I visited [in April] it was still covered with floes. Mesmerising!

I had wanted to go sledge dog driving¬†but had missed the season by a week. So I went for¬†a horse back trail instead. I told my guide, Nicolay, that I had¬†ridden for¬†24 years and of my horse, Adrian, but he shrugged and¬†made me¬†take his riding test nonetheless. (Ahsan, no comments please, even our¬†pics playing your¬†‘game of kings’ (polo) didn’t help). So, I obediently demonstrated stand-and-sits, side swings, trots and a canter. ¬†The ride was fabulous though, it fully restored my Vitamin H(orse) levels and made me feel alive again after so much inactivity on the train.

Sometimes good things happen without asking. I got an unexpected hitch hike¬†back to the railway station. (Did someone stick a sign on my back saying ‘helpless tourist’?) ¬†We listened¬†silently to 80-90s music because my driver could not speak English. Interesting.

Yekatarinaburg (Y’burg)

My train left Irkutsk late at night, and this¬†time I was more “Sibi-proof’. I accepted the no shower, bed, food, friends, reading material. I didn’t met a new Oleg, so I spent my time mostly in silence. Ample time for self reflection and I found that¬†unexpectedly good experience.¬†¬†Nevertheless, I was eager to hop off the train in Y’burg’. Y’burg is a surprisingly picturesque and vibrant city with wonderful people, such as Oleg (Novoselov, ‘Oleg no 2’), who show me around town. Thanks!

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Y’burg was also special because… of the opera. I had never been to one before and went to their¬†premiere of Carmen. It was sung in French (at least attempted) and subtitled in Russian and¬†since¬†I speak neither languages I was happy that I had read¬†the story line before the show. Opera has a new fan, it was stunning.

The next day I messed up badly.¬†I missed my¬†train!¬†I had mixed up¬†local time and¬†Moscow¬†time on the ticket and arrived 5 minutes too late. Russia has many time zones and therefore they print both times on the tickets. This is really handy as soon as one gets used to it, and I had been fine until Y’burg.¬†I was devastated because I didn’t want to be late for¬†my mom and sister in Moscow. Four¬†gentlemen recognised a woman in distress and asked what was wrong. They deliberated and offered to chase the train 200 km up North.¬†They raced all the way pretty much ignoring all traffic rules in the book. We reached at the next station; sprinted to the track, I put my first foot on¬†the rung and heard¬†the whistle blow. I had made it!

When -after 10 nights- I finally reached Moscow and had checked in to a fancy hotel room [to spoil my mom and sister] I couldn’t believe how happy a person could be with a cup of decent coffee, a hair wash and a soft bed….

Crazy linda