Tag Archives: tourists

Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

trains, transportation, travel, England, underground, overground

Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

stairs, travel, Holland, buildings

An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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Traveling in India: Kisses at the Taj Mahal

It is only be apt that when I was in India I ran into a man intent on kissing me at the Taj Mahal.  Actually, it was while I was walking there, in the city of Agra. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century as a memorial of love after the death of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died in childbirth with their fourteenth child. (That would be enough to kill most people.)

The Taj Mahal houses the bodies and sarcophagi of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal and is considered one of the best examples of Mughal architecture as well as being a monument to love. Lovers and scads of tourists visit it every year. I did the same, getting up early one morning in Agra and walking to the Taj. I had dysentery at this point and while ill, this particular day left me with a little more strength and a calmer stomach than on other days.

India is so polluted that often the day begins hazy or cloudy and an orangey-gray cast fires up the sky. It turns out to look quite pretty in pictures and the day started like this. As I walked along a Sikh guy on his scooter puttered up beside me and asked the three ubiquitous questions given to every woman traveller: what’s your name, where are you from, are you married? So it went and then he asked if I’d like a ride. I said no thanks; I had got up early so that I could actually walk to the monument.

A little while later, as he kept pace with my walking, he said, “I love you.” Startled I said, “Uh, thanks.” Then he asked, “Don’t you love me?” Put on the spot, somehow not wanting to be rude, I finally came up with, “I love you like I love all my fellow human beings.” This pacified him a bit or gave him something to chew on.

The problem is in India (or was at that time) they only had American movies to go on as to what North American women were like. India is a culture (or the parts I was in anyways) where men and women do not touch in public. It’s common to see men holding hands but you’ll never see this between the genders. A titillating Indian movie often has the wet sari scene that shows off the woman’s curves while still keeping her modestly dress, and kissing just doesn’t happen in their movies. So then you see a North American movie and all women are wearing form fitting clothes, kissing and touching men and often disrobing after some James Bond caper or the moment, in the movie, when the guy says I love you.

It was a naiveté in which I never felt threatened but was kinda cute and sometimes irritating. As I continued to the Taj Mahal, the Sikh man then said, “Won’t you kiss?” I answered, “No, I will not.”

“But why? I love you.” To which I responded, “I don’t just kiss anyone who says they love me.” Eventually he puttered off and I continued to the Taj Mahal, unkissed and happy.

It was unusual to hear of many rapes in India but then I don’t know the frequency of those that were reported.  I have heard these days that there are more happening. I never felt threatened ever in India and there were a few other times that the men tried to come on to me or kiss me. But that naiveté has probably warn off and with the advent of computers in to one of the world’s most populated countries, it is definitely opening the eyes of many.

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Will Your Kids Live in a Floating City?

I’m about to go on holidays and may be posting sporadically, so I bring you a little bit of history for the pre-dotcom days. This was first published in Technocopia.com in December of 1999 and I interviewed Mr. Nixon about his dream.

There’s a new city on the horizon and it is the floating community called the Freedom Ship.

Freedom Ship is the dreamboat of Norman L. Nixon, who has licenses to practice structural, electrical, sanitary and civil engineering. Nearly a mile long, wider than two football fields and rising twenty-five stories above water, it will be the first self-contained city that not only floats, but also will circumnavigate the world every two years. It will set into ports for the benefit of its residents and for tourists to come onboard and shop at duty-free stores.

Using new technology, Nixon’s plans for a pollution-free, energy efficient and safe ship beyond standard measures used on ships or in cities today. Freedom Ship’s website informs us that “As a sea-going commercial vessel, it will fly the flag of a specific country (to be determined at a later date), enjoy the protection of that country, and be subject to its laws and regulations, as well as to maritime law. In addition, its residents will be subject to the ship’s Rules and Regulations.”

If this is so, then how will Mr. Nixon promise the tax-free lifestyle that he advertises to businesses and residents? Surely whatever country the ship sails under will demand taxes from its residents–Colleen

Most cities evolve naturally, starting as small communities set up around some service or trade that grows as workers move in. Merchants and services then appear in proportion to the inhabitants’ needs. Freedom Ship will start from the ground up on all fronts. Built with every amenity and a wide variety of facilities, the four thousand businesses and seventeen thousand homeowners will find everything they need on board including:

  • A fleet of commuter aircraft and hydrofoils to ferry people to and from shore
  • Hangars, internal marina, repair and machine shops for private aircraft and boats
  • Residential space with (supposedly) fifty different styles available
  • A multi-language library, with computer and internet accesses
  • Schools from K-12 through college, emphasizing science, engineering, and medicine
  • A first-class hospital, with wide spectrum medical care and philosophies at “reasonable cost”
  • Domestic and home nursing personnel
  • Retail and wholesale shops, including bakeries and supermarkets
  • Over 140 acres of outside open space
  • Banks with currency exchange and fund transfers
  • Hotels for those wishing to vacation on the Freedom Ship
  • Restaurants, done in different cultural flavors
  • Entertainment facilities; movies, theaters, clubs, casinos
  • Offices
  • Warehouses
  • Light manufacturing and assembly enterprises
  • A wide array of recreational and athletic facilities
  • Electricity, satellite TV, and water
  • Internet connection and phone service at a very good rate. Free radio communication.

A great deal of money will be needed to construct the Freedom Ship–6 billion dollars’ worth. Although Nixon has some backers, it’s obvious that construction money will most likely be generated by the sale of the residential units. The promotional information stresses that there are no hidden costs and no taxes such as homeowners’ taxes. The sixteen different units listed on the website range in price from $138,000 for a 10’x30′ room with no kitchen to $7,178,600 for a 5100 square foot ocean view residence. That’s pretty pricey and though Mr. Nixon is quoted as saying average prices are $800,000 with some units going for as little as $24,000, none are listed on the site.

A 10’x30′ room is a small as the room I am currently writing in. And such a residence would not have a view of the ocean but of the hall or maybe the shopping mall.—Colleen

Even though there will be no property taxes, utility fees are said to “be only slightly more than USA rates,” and monthly maintenance fees “comparable to those of USA land-based luxury condominiums” are listed from $469 to $11,616. Few people who own a house or condominium pay monthly fees that would come close to these amounts. You could consider the benefit of the unending cruise to different ports of call as part of that price.

Some amenities will be included for that price such as no sales tax, spa and recreational facilities like jogging paths, open land and tennis courts (just like a regular city), twenty-four hour tram and railway system, and discounts on ship-operated stores like transportation and medical. As well, every shipboard resident will be given a credit card and billed monthly for purchase by the ship’s computer.

With such prices for residential units, Freedom Ship may be a resort city only for the rich. Yet there will be ample employment opportunities. Businesses can hire their own employees or use the ship’s “employee leasing services” where workers will be trained, given uniforms, access to the employee cafeteria, and room and board on the lower decks. One could say this sounds similar to Victorian England’s upper and lower classes with the servants kept separately, yet many people work on cruise ships today, living in similar situations, to make and save their money, and see the world.

Such a large ship or city will also need its own security force. A two thousand-strong security force will patrol the decks, do security checks as people board and be reinforced with an “electronic incursion-detection system.” Wayne Dawson of the Free Nation Foundation (a Libertarian think tank) questions whether “there has been any thought to dispute resolution or a court system.”

Building the Leviathan

The task of constructing a cohesive working city that will house fifty thousand residents, fifteen thousand employees and up to twenty-five thousand visitors is as monumental as the ship’s size. And none of the finer details will matter if the ship cannot withstand the rigors of the sea.

Originally Norman Nixon and his company Engineering Solutions, Sarasota, Florida, designed a modular ethylene plant in Japan, which was then towed to Saudi Arabia and the one hundred cells reassembled on site. From that technology, used for floating oil-drilling rigs, they looked at building an island city from the ground up for Hong Kong (which did not materialize). A backer then suggested building an island that could visit different countries.

Freedom Ship was born from that idea and six hundred airtight modules would allow the massive ship to float. Unlike cruise ships, the Freedom Ship is wider than it is tall and if the ninety-eight external modules were breached and flooded the ship’s draft would only increase by one foot, say the designers. As well, they say it would withstand force five hurricanes, be “impervious to lightning” and “virtually fireproof,” but there will still be an automatic sprinkler system.

Remember, like concrete buildings, it’s not the building that burns but what you put into it. After all, they said the Titanic was unsinkable too. —Colleen

Some architects and engineers are skeptical about the structural integrity because the floating city is five times larger than the largest cruise ship. Popular Mechanics points out that, “The Destiny displaces 100,000 tons of water. The largest vessel afloat, the supertanker Jahre Viking, displaces 564,739 tons. Freedom will displace 2.7 million tons.” (02/98) That’s an awful lot of water. But Nixon and his team of twenty-four engineers and consultants say it can be done and that a hundred-foot wave would only displace the ship by one inch.

Mr. Nixon hopes to confirm Puerto Castilla, Honduras as the construction site within the next couple of months. Freedom Ship will take forty months to build, with assembly to be done at sea because of its size, but it will set sail after twenty-eight months and the first four thousand units are built. Construction and interior detailing will be finished on the other decks over the last twelve months.

State of the art technology will be used to make the vessel safe and as environmentally friendly and non-polluting as possible. Some of the features are:

  • Use of high-tech incinerator toilets that eliminate sewage and sewage disposal.
  • Recycled gray water from washing into drinking water
  • Non-welded, bolt-up construction that eliminates pollution
  • Recycling of all glass, metal, paper and plastic
  • Clean burning of non-recyclable materials as fuel for steam and power generation
  • Energy recapture of engine exhaust, using a proprietary system
  • Environmentally clean and energy-efficient appliances
  • Water-based paints, natural fibers, and natural wood wherever possible
  • Minimization of plastic or other petroleum-base products capable of outgassing
  • Electrostatic filters in every unit and the hallways, eliminating airborne bacteria and viruses as well as dust and pollen
  • Using diesel instead of cheap marine fuel because it burns cleaner

Mr. Nixon isn’t the only one who has put thought into floating cities. Richard Morris of the Free Nation Foundation has looked at designing a man-made island that would be tax free, and able to be towed or pushed out of the path of oncoming storms. His company, Sea Structures, Inc., looks at floating structures as being more stable than those built on land and subject to tremors and earthquakes.

Raising the Titanic might be easier than building the Freedom Ship. However, Norman Nixon has already spent two years working on his vision and the scrupulous details. If contracts are approved on the Puerto Castilla site, construction could very well begin in the next few months. It will be an interesting experiment, if nothing else, to see not only if the world’s largest ship can be built, but whether a floating city can be constructed on the spot and support a viable commercial and residential life for its inhabitants.

Ten years after this article and it seems the Freedom Ship is nowhere near its launch though Nixon is trying to keep his dream alive.

More Information and Related Sites

Freedom Ship website http://www.freedomship.com

Dr. Eugene Tsui Architect design of floating cities books http://www.tdrinc.com/home.html

Popular Mechanics—illustration and short discussion on floating sea cities http://popularmechanics.com/popmech/sci/tech/9905TUOCAM.html

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