We’re sitting in a garden that belongs to a charming, 200 year old farm house. The views here in the Danish village of Otterup are beautiful. There are golden fields all around, and right behind them there’s the sea. We’re sipping on refreshing welcome drinks and chat away with our hosts like old friends. We’ve come to visit a couple who, perhaps without realising it, have made a big impact on our lives, even though we don’t really know each other. I guess random encounters can sometimes end up shaping life in unexpected ways. That’s what happened to us, anyways.
The last time we saw these people, was in Essauera, on the edge of the Sahara desert in Morocco. They were on their way back from a year of traveling around the world with their three daughters. The family were camped next to us, and we watched their happy, peaceful existence for a while before plucking up the courage to ask them about their trip. They we excited to tell us all about their year of adventure and it sparked a thought in us; “could that be us one day?”. That spark never died, but instead, it grew into a dream and then into a determined goal. After years of planning and preparing, we finally took that bold first step and let go of the never ending rat race of everyday life. The biggest challenge of our entire trip so far, has been that very first step.
Now, on our way back from two years of travel and incredible experiences, we’re sat face to face with the force that got us going in the first place. We exchange stories and experiences, and notice that travelling this way develops and moulds people in a certain way. Although we can’t converse with the Svenstrups in our native language, we can almost finish their sentences. These two years have been incredibly enriching and they have given us enough stories to share for nights on end. Yet, we have found that sometimes one has to travel far, in order to see what’s close more clearly. We all agree that traveling has highlighted to us what a “welfare state” actually is. Life is a bit easier around our neck of the woods, because we can rest assured that our government officials and authorities can be trusted, because everyone is expected to abide by the same rules and because our environment is clean and safe .
All this time apart from everyone we know and love has definitely shown us the importance of family and friends in our lives. We are very fortunate to have so many lovely people around us! I wish we’d remember to say that to each other a little more often! I can’t wait to hold all our loved ones back at home again! It’s good to go, but even better to return!
I’m watching a group of motorbikes fly towards me at an incredible speed. I’ve got a spot at the very end of a straight, and I see as the bikes slow down and lean in for a steep right corner, almost touching the pavement as they do so. Instead of music, the speakers of the pub next door are blasting out passionate narration from the commentator. Thousands of motorsport fans have gathered around the T.T. course today. This section cutting through Ramsey town centre, is pretty packed too. Many of the spectators themselves are also dressed in racing leathers. The sun is shining, beer is flowing, cameras are clicking and the atmosphere is soaring!
It’s only practice week, and yet still the fastest adrenaline junkies get around the 37,7mile (60,72km) course in under 17 minutes. This means that the average riding speed used on this narrow and bendy road is just over 200kmph. The T.T. Is considered to be the world’s most dangerous motorbike race, due to the challenging course, which uses mountainous, ordinary roads, cutting through villages and towns.
Soon enough we receive a terrible reminder of the ever-present dangers of road racing. Red flags are raised to signal that the race has been stopped and the emergency vehicles whizz howling into action. We hear that there has been an accident, a promising young rider, Dan Kneen, has driven off the course and died immediately. It seems both sad and surreal, since we only just watched him ride past! I scroll though my photos and before long, I come across a photo of him, rider no:8. The practice gets cancelled for the day and the deflated viewers disperse to their various places of accommodation. We feel extremely sorry for what has happened and wish our deepest sympathies on the family, who have sacrificed so much for this sport.
Our own place of accommodation is only a five minute walk away. On our way there we walk past Epeli, who’s waiting by the roadside for now, because we’ve moved in with our daughters family for a couple of weeks. We end up watching the racing many times over the following two weeks, but what’s even more fascinating than road racing, is playing with our grandkids who have grown a lot over the past couple of years. Watching them go about their day is so much fun! The sunny, summer days afford us many opportunities for walks in the island’s beautiful nature, plenty of ice cream, trips to the park and throwing skipping stones in the Irish Sea.
We are onboard a cargo ship called “Atlantic Sea”, chugging our way through the waves of the North Atlantic. We’ve been living on this gigantic ship for a week already, sharing it with only the crew and three other passengers. We’re in the middle of the ocean and right now and there’s absolutely no land in sight.
The Atlantic Sea is the world’s largest con-ro vessel, and it transports both cargo containers and vehicles. We felt a little apprehensive
before stepping onboard, since we had been told several times not to expect a cruise, but to prepare ourselves for pretty basic facilities.
Our days onboard have, however, been lovely and chilled out and we have received VIP treatment throughout our stay. Meals are served three times a day and the sauna is on every night. The ship’s captain has given us a tour of the whole ship, including the command deck and the engine room. We also took part in an interesting evacuation practice, during which we learned to get the life jackets and suits on as quickly as possible. The procedure definitely added to our sense of security. We will, after all, be sailing over the historic site where the infamous Titanic sank. One of the highlights so far, has been access to the car deck, where we saw Epeli strapped and sealed safely for the journey.
Our cabin is spacious enough and has a window. We’ve spent time there reading paperbacks, writing our book and sorting through the overload of photo files on the laptop. We’ve also made use of the ship’s gym, having become very familiar with the treadmill, rowing machine and exercise bike there. Every now and then we’ve also got out on the deck for some fresh air. Our favourite pass time has, of course, been exchanging travel stories and experiences with the other passengers.
The sea stayed pretty calm for the first few days, but there have been times when eight-metre waves have crashed against the vessel, causing it to sway from side to side, making it hard to manoeuvre corridors and stairways. The thing that really knocked me sideways, though, was finding out that unlike originally planned, the ship would now not be going to Liverpool, but to Hamburg and Antwerp first! The extra week of travel to us, means losing the money for our pricey hotel booking and even more upsettingly, missing a date with our family members who have traveled to the Isle of Man, so we could all spend time together with family there. I miss them a lot! It seems that anything really is possible at sea!
On the other hand, we have gained seven extra days of travel time, and the harbours of Hamburg and Antwerp add a bit of extra flair to our journey at sea, which is starting to feel a lot more like a cruise! And despite the hiccup, we are getting closer to Liverpool as well as home, slowly but surely!
We are welcomed in to Canada by lashing sleet and rain and a red and white maple leaf flag flapping in the wind. There are still a few patches of slushy snow on the ground, so we get changed in to our waterproof gear before heading out to check out our surroundings as the day turns to dusk. For our first night in Canada we’ve parked up by Skylon Tower in Ontario, 200m away from the Niagara Falls and the powerful roar of gushing water is constantly audible in the background.
We walk past a mini golf course, and it’s sizeable dinosaur figures look scarily aggressive in the dark, grinning menacingly in the cold rain. It’s not tourist season yet, so the ferris wheel carts of the fairground hang empty for the most part, and the neon lights from different gift shops and stalls create a sci-fi-esque atmosphere to the deserted park.
We pop inside a shop to warm up a bit and to have a skeet at their large selection of souvenirs. Nature and Native American culture seem to sell pretty well; dream catchers, black-bear teddies, beaver plushies, Indian dolls and stone jewellery await the herds of shoppers that will inevitably arrive in a few months time. It’s quiet today though, so the friendly staff have time to chat and we get some great tips from them about some of the best sights on our route.
We stand and admire the falls, lit up in different colours, and store this beautiful sight in our memories. It’s too dark for photos though, so unfortunately we won’t be able to share this view with our friends. Back in the car, mugs of hot chocolate are just what we need to warm us up.
By the morning, the rain has ceased and we hop on a “yellow bug elevator” for a ride-to-the-top, a 158m long ride up to the observation deck of the Skylon Tower. The wintery falls are actually pretty spectacular. In the absence of colour, shapes and contours take centre stage. Against the stripped back surroundings, the sheer power of the falls becomes more apparent and the atmosphere is a lot more earthy now that we get to really focus on the gush of the water, the blocks of ice framing the falls and the shapes and imprints carved into them by the water. In the summertime, the huge crowds buzzing around the falls and the helicopters and balloons above it inevitably distract some of the attention away from the actual attraction itself.
We spend the next couple of days walking around Toronto. We end up spending several hours at the Ice-Hockey Hall of Fame and museum, where we’re happy to discover a few Finnish names amongst the stars. We spot portraits of both Jari Kurri and Teemu Selänne on the official hall of fame. There’s a room where natural light gets filtered in through a gorgeous, round, glass mosaic window on the ceiling, and in a glass cabinet directly beneath it stands the humongous, silvery, Stanley Cup.
Canada is a large and vast country and it’s northern regions are arctic, inhabited mainly by Inuits, who are still very much holding on to their culture and traditional ways of life. Our schedule won’t allow us to experience their culture live, but we get a little taster of the incredibly fascinating life of the Inuits in Toronto’s Museum of Inuit Art. The exhibition includes stone sculptures depicting seal hunting, sleigh dogs and polar bears.
Our journey continues toward North. Our tickets across the Atlantic have arrived in our inbox and although we’re excited about the boat journey across the sea, we’re already dreaming about summer on the other side of the Atlantic.
Fluffy haired Inkeri and Risto stare straight into my eyes with serious looks on their little faces from the print of a black and white photo at the National Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island. These Finnish children had crossed the Atlantic together with their widowed mother, in hope of a new life in America, like millions of other Europeans at the turn of the 20th century. Ellis island, located in New York harbour, used to function as an immigration inspection and processing centre where people hoping to enter the country were registered and put through a health inspection and even a rudimentary IQ test. Upon passing these tests, the new arrivals were free to enter New York and find work in whichever field of employment was most suited to their abilities. After delving into the history of immigration for a couple of hours, I have no doubt about the force on which the American welfare state was built upon.
A short ferry journey later, we’re greeted by New York’s most iconic landmark; the Statue of Liberty. It’s quite moving to think about the sense of relief that the sight of this magnificent , 93m tall monument signifying freedom and democracy, must have brought to those feeling worn out after a long journey across the Atlantic. We climb a hundred steps up onto a viewing platform to take in the incredible view of Brooklyn bridge and the numerous skyscrapers of Manhattan. There’s a big crowd of us visitors, all wishing to capture this iconic city landscape, which makes the atmosphere quite cramped. The sheer amount of different languages being spoken around us is intoxicating!
Upon our arrival in Manhattan, we stop at Battery Park for a short while to watch an acrobatic performance, demonstrated by a group of muscly, confident young men. They ask for volunteers from the audience and the resulting backflips over a little boy have us holding our breath, hoping that their little helper stays still. We go for a walk along Broadway and take a skeet at the posters advertising different musicals currently being shown at the various theatres on this world famous street. On Wall Street, between the tall buildings of the finance district, we see plenty of men in white collars, hurrying around with their brief cases, advancing forward in their careers as much as on the pavement.
One place that we definitely don’t want to miss, is the infamous site of the World Trade Centre. On the place where the twin towers used to stand, there are now two memorial pools. The names of all who perished in that awful act of terrorism have been engraved in bronze around the pools. The list of names is shockingly long! We get to know more about the events of 9/11 in the neighbouring museum, dedicated to marking that day in history. The horrifying reality of the attack really hits home, when we stand in-front of large walls of photographs, depicting pictures of 2700 individuals of different ages who lost their lives unexpectedly in the middle of an otherwise perfectly ordinary, September day here in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. as well as in Pennsylvania. We stop for a moment and listen to a recording, on which the family members of the victims talk about their loved ones.
Both sill deep in thought, we leave the museum and walk into a warm spring evening. Oh how I wish that us, different people all around the world, would never see each other as faceless enemies, but would grow to understand and appreciate humanity and the worth of every individual life.