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Back in London after spending five days exploring a little bit of the Republic of Ireland with my boyfriend Eamonn and our friend Shane… and what a great time we had!
We spent a couple of days in Dublin (including going to a proper Irish wedding), before taking the train to the west coast to Galway, and a little jaunt to explore Burren National Park and the impressive Cliffs of Moher.
Ireland is the 24th country I have ever visited. Oh yes, and I also got to see a castle, a sight that is often top of my travel list!
Despite going for only a few days, I feel like I got to see some great highlights of the country, and I loved everything from the nature to the cities, and of course the great atmosphere of the pubs.
I will write more about this trip to Ireland in the coming future, but for now, I simply wanted to share a small preview.
Have you been to Ireland?
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been telling a few people my so-called BIG NEWS, and here it is, time to come out publicly with what the next chapter in my life will be, coming up only two months from today.
Well, it happens that my two-year working visa for the UK is coming to an end, and after much deliberation (as I was exploring options to maybe extend my stay through a work sponsorship), I’ve decided to take the “easy” road and return to Canada in mid September.
I can’t believe that after making a life in London over the last couple of years, just as I was starting to plant some roots, it is time for me to leave. I have grown to love this city so much, so, although I am happy to be returning to Vancouver and being close to family and friends, I have a bittersweet feeling about this move.
HOWEVER, If you’ve followed my blog over the last few years, you’ll know that I don’t just “move” places. En-route to moving, I take the long way around, and get some travel under my belt while I am free from any responsibilities. Moving to Australia meant I got to travel for three weeks in New Zealand and 3 months in Australia itself, before settling down to work in Sydney. When I moved to the UK, I took 10 days to travel the Netherlands and Belgium, followed by three weeks in Turkey and a month traveling around to various cities in the UK, before I started work in London.
So, in true Clausito’s Footprints fashion, before I settle down in Vancouver again, I will be doing an epic six-week trip around Central America this Autumn, visiting all seven countries which make this sub-continent.
This trip will not only help me tick a whole lot of new countries, cities, towns, beaches and archaeological sites off my bucket list, but it will also mean I will have FINALLY reached my goal of visiting as many countries as the years I’ve lived (that will be 32 countries visited, just past my 32nd birthday!).
And there’s more BIG NEWS!… but I can’t go into that just yet…
Stay tuned as I finish up my two-years living in Europe in style over the next two months, followed up with many new adventures throughout the rest of 2015, and in the years to come.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about many of the things I did in Turkey’s magical Cappadocia, during my visit in September 2013. Out of three weeks traveling around Turkey, I only spent a couple of days in Cappadocia, but this other-worldly region still became one of my trip’s highlights, which is saying a lot, as Turkey was full of highlights!
I’ve always believed that one of the best ways to experience the culture of a place you visit, is by interacting with the locals, and our G Adventures tour in Turkey allowed us to do that in different ways. This was especially true in Cappadocia, where we had many opportunities to see how locals live their lives.
Crafts & Culture
Our stay in Cappadocia included a visit to a carpet factory and a pottery factory, in which we were shown how local artists create beautiful pieces all by hand. Carpet-weaving and pottery-making have been important aspects of Turkish culture for centuries, and it is impressive getting to see first hand how these life skills have been passed down through generations.
The carpet factory introduced us to the entire process, from collecting silk from silk worms (all grown on site), to the colouring of the materials, to the actual weaving of each carpet by hand – a job which can take multiple months, depending on the difficulty of the design and the quality of the material.
Meanwhile, in the pottery factory we were shown how the pieces are made with a manually operated pottery wheel, before being offered a chance to try making a piece ourselves. Both factories ended up truly benefiting from our visit, as many in our group ended up buying some original pieces at each to take back home, many costing upwards of a couple thousand dollars!
A Shoe Shop Called Desire
No, that’s not really the name of the shoe shop, but a bit of flirting actually earned this little shoe shop some business!
On our own, five of us found a small local shoe shop in Goreme, which makes some, um… unique (aka pretty ridiculous) leather shoes. It may have been that we were actually enamoured by the funky shoes themselves, or maybe the fact that the shoe seller was a total babe (ahem!), but all five of us ended up buying a pair from him!
I have only used my Turkish shoes twice since then (I like them, but they are hard to wear as they go with pretty much nothing!); however, the most important thing was that we got some time well-spent chatting up with the shoe seller, and especially that the three gays had our photo taken with him… I’d say that alone is almost worth the cost of the shoes!
Oh yes, and did I mention he told us he enjoys playing Turkish oil wrestling in his spare time? This is a real sport (google it if you don’t believe me!), and this is a real fact!
Dinner with a Local Family
As part of our tour, we also got to visit a local family’s home to have a traditional regional home-cooked meal with them. The couple who hosted us could barely speak English, but we were able to communicate through our guide Ilyas, and through the couple’s daughter, whose English was great.
Getting a glimpse into what local life is like is priceless, and if you ever get the opportunity to take a peek in any country, in any way, I highly recommend you do so!
R-E-S-P-E-C-T is the Way to Play
If you do decide to dig a little deeper into local life, make sure to read up on local customs, as the last thing you want to do is offend the locals… especially if they are your hosts!
Supporting local businesses (especially those that encourage the need for local skills, but also those who hire sexy men to sell their product ;)) is one of the most positive impacts tourism has in a community, so by all means, buy local crafts and don’t be afraid to speak to the artisans and other locals and learn a little more about their culture and way of life, as you might learn a thing or two.
More than that, getting to see even just a tiny glimpse of local life, and speaking even trivialities with the locals of a foreign land, is much more rewarding than looking at a destination as an outsider, with a passing glance.
Ever met a local abroad? What was your experience?
Happy Canada Day 2015!
To celebrate this Canada Day, celebrated the 1st of July every year, here are some Canada Geese, hanging out by Burnaby Lake in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
I took this photo about two years ago now, as I went around the city with my friend Ryan trying to find new secluded places to hike and walk around the greater Vancouver area, before moving to the UK.
Happy Canada Day!!
Happy Pride in London 2015!
Last year, I notoriously bashed Pride in London, as there were a number of things I didn’t enjoy about the event. That had been my very first Pride event outside of Vancouver, and I felt may things about the parade itself were badly organized, and combined with other factors (like a torrential downpour), I was really disappointed with it.
Aside from the parade, I had really enjoyed what came afterwards, which was basically a big street party in all of Soho.
Well, I went to Pride in London again this year to give it a second chance, and I am happy to report, that Pride in London 2015 was MUCH BETTER than it was last year, and I have kind of forgiven the event for doing certain things the way they do. Sunny skies and warm temperatures also helped, but I think there was more to the weather alone!
The morning started on the right foot, as I joined my boyfriend Eamonn for a “Champagne breakfast” (it was actually Prosecco, but you get the idea) with his colleagues at Citibank, as he was marching with them to represent his company. It was a leisurely morning in a patio near Oxford Street, where we got to enjoy the sun, some light breakfast foods, and plenty of bubbly and mimosas.
We were there for a couple of hours before I had to leave to meet my friend Shane in Oxford Circus, to grab good spot to watch the parade. With over 950,000 people expected to attend (that is about 1/3 more people than they had last year!), we wanted to make sure we’d be in the front row to be able to take it all in.
The Parade in 2015
Shane and I found a perfect spot at the circle itself of Oxford Circus, which allowed us to see the parade without any issues. Now, I will deconstruct my complaints from last year, explaining why this year was SO MUCH BETTER, and maybe apologizing a little about some of the things I may have under-thought about.
1. The barricades. Pride in London runs right through the centre of the city, an area that even at the best of times is transited by thousands of people every single hour. I noticed the amounts of people trying to cross the parade and having to go towards one of the designated crossing points and wait for their chance to cross, only because the barricades got on their way.
Last year the barricades made me feel like they were separating the people watching from the parade itself, but yesterday I understood that without them, the parade would constantly be interrupted by people crossing from one side of the street to the next.
I also understand now, thinking about it, that in other pride festivals, such as Vancouver Pride or Brighton & Hove Pride, the parade routes don’t need the same kind of separation as the areas aren’t as busy as that of central London, so people won’t need to cross over from side to side as often.
So here it is: I apologize, Pride in London, I now know you use the barricades for a reason, and it works… but maybe it just felt better this year because there was an improvement in the next four points!
2. Last year, I felt there was a complete lack of interaction between the parade marchers and those of us watching the parade. This year, I honestly felt that, for the most part, the marchers came over to us more often, waving at us, at times hugging us, and most of the time giving us high fives.
Despite having the barricades in front of us, it felt like we were part of the party, rather than merely watching it, as it happened last year!
3. The goodies! Yes, everyone loves getting stuff, even if it’s pretty useless, as long as it is shiny. One of my favourite things about Vancouver Pride, for example, are the bead necklaces that nearly every float throws at the audience, making pride an event to enjoy, like a small version of Mardi Gras.
While Pride in London participants didn’t have beads to hand out, they were interacting with us more, and giving out a number of things… We got mostly stickers, but we also got a rainbow flag, some pins, candy, and even simple things, like the marchers coming over to glue some glitter on us, or paint rainbows on our faces… or shoot confetti into the sky above us!
Again, more than actually getting anything, it was this interaction that made it feel more like a fun party that we were all part of!
4. The volunteers. Pride in London runs only because of the hard work of volunteers, most visibly the “stewards” who keep an eye out on the crowd & marchers to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Last year, the volunteers became more of a hinderance than an asset, as they stood still watching the parade from one spot, blocking our view with their giant umbrellas.
This year, the stewards seemed to take on a better role, helping pump up the crowd before the parade even go to where we were, and making sure the atmosphere was fun and enjoyable for everyone the whole way through. Little things, like moving around in their designated area, instead of standing in one place through the entire thing blocking people’s views, made the parade more enjoyable for us watching.
5. The parade ran smoothly! In addition to a better job by the volunteers, the entire thing went ahead much more smoothly than last year. I am going to assume that Pride in London learned from their mistakes last year, and made changes to ensure that any stresses that surely arose, were fixed without making a big visible drama that gathered more attention than the parade itself.
Overall, I really enjoyed the parade, and seeing Eamonn marching was an extra added treat. Also, I got to give a credit to the sun for making an appearance, as the sunny weather surely had to help impact the atmosphere and the attitude of everyone involved.
Soho Street Party
While the sun made the parade much more enjoyable to watch, it also meant that thousands more people would be out and about for Pride in London.
Last year, one of my favourite parts of Pride was when we headed over to Soho and enjoyed the celebrations, when the entire area closed to traffic and turned into a giant street party, with stages for singers and drag queens to perform and entertain. With so many more people out and about this year, I actually found it a bit overwhelming, and unfortunately didn’t enjoy Soho as much.
I think I will stick to visiting Soho in normal nights, when the venues and the streets are busy and buzzing, but not overwhelmingly packed!
Trafalgar Square Festival
London is unique amongst other UK cities, in that they host a post-parade festival which is free of charge… this sounds amazing, until you realize that a free event means the place will be over-packed and hard to access. Also, because the parade runs a central course, it is only logical that such festival be held central as well, and the best place to host that kind of party is Trafalgar Square. The square is a great venue, but not nearly big enough to host the large number of people Pride in London attracts.
We went into Trafalgar Square in the late afternoon, just before the last sets ran, when the crowds had reduced by about half from what they were earlier. There were still hundreds of people in the square, but we were able to actually see some of the performances.
When the stage closed, we decided to call London a night and head back to South London for dinner, as returning to busy Soho was a little more than we were looking to put ourselves through!
Overall, I can actually say Pride in London did a fantastic job in 2015. This is estimated to have been the city’s largest pride celebration, and they ran a successful and fun parade, as well as a multitude of options in Soho and Trafalgar Square for people to continue celebrating afterwards.
In terms of redeeming themselves for the chaotic Pride of last year, I can say – Pride in London: mission accomplished!
Very few places I’ve ever visited have struck me with their magic as much as Turkey’s Cappadocia did. In fact, Cappadocia, a region with an unrealistic desert-like landscape, is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been to.
The natural scenery of Cappadocia looks like something out of a Dr Seuss book, complete with the so-called Fairy Chimneys, limestone structures that have been carved by nature into the most interesting shapes.
To add to the mystique, humans have transformed the scenery over centuries in the most unusual way: by carving houses, churches, and even an entire castle, into the inside of these fairy chimneys. In some instances, the man-made caves are complemented by additional brick and mortar structures, while in others, the only hints that someone has taken over the fairy chimney are the small windows carved from the inside out to bring in the light.
We spent a couple of days in the small town of Goreme, in the heart of Cappadocia. The town is pretty touristy, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, as tourism has brought in a bunch of nice restaurants, hotels and shopping options into a town that may otherwise not even exist.
Goreme is small enough to cover on foot within minutes, and offers some beautiful views of the surrounding magical landscape. The town is not only home to various hotels, restaurants and shops, it also is home to the Goreme Open Air Museum, only 15-minutes walking from the town centre.
Goreme Open Air Museum
A visit to Cappadocia’s top attraction, the Goreme Open Air Museum, is a must. The UNESCO World Heritage site contains some of the area’s most beautiful medieval rock-cut churches, many of which are over 1,000 years old. Said churches were carved into the interior of the iconic fairy chimneys so that Christians could worship God, while hiding from the forces of the Roman Empire.
Aside from the structures, which are impressive as they are, the churches are decorated with beautifully preserved colourful frescos, which in their own are reason enough to visit the museum. The most elaborate frescos are inside of the churches (under no-photograph areas, so I didn’t take any!), but a few of the simpler ones are visible in now-exposed parts of the museum.
There is a nominal fee to enter the Goreme Open Air Museum, but if you are in Cappadocia, the visit is well worth it.
Pigeon Valley & Uçhisar Castle
One of my biggest highlights of Cappadocia was simply getting to be one with the unique natural scenery of the area, and what a better way to do so than by hiking through its valleys!
During our three-day stay in Cappadocia, we went on a couple of guided hikes along with most of the people in our group, to explore the different valleys in the region.
One of the highlights was Pigeon Valley, called so because of its large number of dovecotes, which has some beautiful views of the scenery. Pigeon Valley, a scenic pathway filled with apple orchards, runs for 5km in between the town of Goreme and the town of Uçhisar, which is home to a giant stone-cut castle.
At Uçhisar, we climbed to the top of the castle, admiring the many rooms, passageways and staircases that were carved into the rock to create a livable space. The top of the castle offers some breath-taking views over the surrounding area, so it is well worth the hike!
**PROCEED WITH CAUTION, the paragraph and photographs below are PG13. You’ve been warned.**
Love Valley is a definite (laugh-worthy) highlight of Cappadocia. The valley has received this name due to the large number of phallic-shaped fairy chimneys in the area. Going on this hike with my gay best friend, our inner child (aka immaturity) took over as we posed for some photos surrounded by nothing more than giant stone d*cks!
This was my first-ever Turkish bath (out of two), and although I enjoyed it at the time, it did not compare in the least to the Hamam I visited in Istanbul at the end of my trip.
The basics of a Turkish Bathhouse were there: we were led into a dry sauna room where the heat got us all sweaty, before being taken to a steam room in which men scrubbed our bodies and washed us with warm water until we were squeaky clean. This particular place also offered an additional post-bath massage (by a separate masseur), which was relaxing, although not traditionally Turkish.
So what was lacking? The atmosphere, for one, as the Hamam we visited in Goreme lacks the age of those in Istanbul, a history that is almost palpable in the air. Also the overall experience felt overly geared towards tourists, which, even without having had another (proper) Hamam experience at the time, felt unauthentic.
Was it nice? Of course it was, but I would highly recommend going to the Çemberlitaş Hamam in Istanbul instead.
Folkloric Dinner Show
This is another overly touristy experience which I wasn’t sure about, but actually ended up loving. It may have been partly about the group of people I was with, but this was definitely one of our most fun nights in all of Turkey (and that is saying a lot, as we had a lot of fun nights).
The concept of the show is to portray traditional Turkish folkloric dances (and some adopted ones, like belly dancing) by a group of performers in a circular 360 degree stage, which is surrounded by tables. Viewers get to enjoy the show while eating a traditional Turkish meal, and drinking a lot, as it is free-flowing drinks for the entire 2.5 hour performance!
The food was quite nice, although not the best I had in Turkey, but I did help myself to my fair share of Raki & water and Vodka & cherry juice cocktails. The show was surprisingly good, feeling more like a flamboyant musical-style play which loosely followed a storyline, than a folklore dance routine.
Towards the end of the show, after dinner was finished and plenty of drinks had been consumed, everyone in the audience was
forced persuaded invited to join the stage, at which point popular contemporary Turkish music started playing, and the entire stage turned into a nightclub-like dance floor. This was especially fun given the fact that the audience was actually about two-thirds Turkish tourists, and Turkish girls apparently really like getting all us white gays dancing!
If you’ve ever read anything about Cappadocia, you will have probably seen that the thing “to do” is to take a sunrise flight over the magical scenery aboard a hot-air balloon. Well, I will surprise you by saying that I chose not to do the “to do” thing!
There were a few factors about why I decided not to do it, and yes, one was money; I was traveling extensively for two months during my move to the UK and wasn’t sure when I’d start working, so the balloon flight was an expense that I wasn’t sure I needed to indulge in. I also didn’t feel the need to go on one, and to this day, I am glad to report that it is not something I regret.
I did however join the rest of the group in an early morning wake up, as I wanted to see the balloons gliding through the air, and I can attest that seeing them is indeed a magical experience, and I was able to get some pretty nice photos of the balloons of Cappadocia.
Kaymakli Underground City
There are a number of underground cities around Cappadocia, mostly built in the 8th-7th centuries BC. These underground cities are most famous for being the hiding places of Christians, escaping from persecution by the Roman Empire after the 5th Century AD.
The UNESCO World Heritage Kaymakli Underground City is one of the most famous, due to the sheer size of the city. Only the first four floors are open to visitors, which we explored with a tour guide, and this was enough to give us an understanding of how big the city is.
Kaymakli City contains close to 100 corridors connecting different rooms, which were used for everything, from keeping livestock, to storing supplies, as well as rooms for every day activities, including living spaces, kitchens, and churches. Inside, you can only imagine how much effort went into building those underground cities, a truly remarkable human achievement.
If you’re traveling through Turkey, chances are you will visit Cappadocia, and I cannot recommend this region enough. Despite going to so many incredible places around Turkey, Cappadocia was definitely one of the biggest highlights of my three weeks in the country!
Haven’t been too good lately at writing my blog (or even updating on Twitter and Facebook), because my mom and aunt have come to visit me in London, and I’ve been busy showing them around!
My aunt has been in London before but not for many years, and this is my mom’s first visit, so I’ve had a lot of fun showing them around my favourite spots. We also discovered new places together, which is very exciting. Despite living in London for over a year and a half already, the city still has may ways to surprise me.
One last day with them today before they return to Canada tomorrow (and I return to real life, back at work after six days off, playing tourist in my own town), and then I promise I’ll update!
June is here, and with it, the beginning of pride season, as pride festivals and events begin to pop up all over the world (mainly the northern hemisphere). No, this blog post is not about songs, despite the festive title (although singing to my favourite gay anthems shall happen this summer), but if you read through, you’ll understand the name of the post!
Pride festivals are meant to increase the visibility of LGBT people in our communities, and stand for gay+ acceptance and equality in rights. These pride celebrations have their share of fans (and a number of not-so-fans) in both the straight and gay communities, and to me they are an important part of gay culture and a way for everyone to have fun in a non-judgemental, colourful way. No, a pride parade is not everyday life for every gay and lesbian, but I see nothing wrong with a little celebration now and then!
The Ghost of Prides Past
Until two years ago, I had surprisingly only ever gone to one pride (albeit many times). This might come as a surprise to some of my friends, who perceive me as ‘very gay,’ hopping from one bar to another on any given Saturday night (which does happen, but not as often as it seems!).
For me, until 2013, it was all about the Vancouver Pride Festival, a week-long celebration that happens every year in the last week of July, culminating with a fabulous parade on the first Sunday of August (which happens to be a long weekend). To date, I have gone to Vancouver Pride six years so far (I skipped a few in between!), and being the great celebration that it is, I never even considered traveling anywhere to witness other cities’ pride celebrations. When I moved to the UK nearly two years ago, I decided I’d branch out. It was not that I didn’t want to see other pride festivals. It was simply that I didn’t feel the need to go out of my way to go to other prides, when a great one already happened at home every year. But this was a new beginning, and a new opportunity to try new things.
My first pride experience out of Vancouver was Pride in London 2014, a parade that to me, just wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. I wanted so badly to have a good time, but it was a combination of things seem to have conspired to make me not enjoy the event as I was hoping: I may have over-built the excitement of seeing a new pride parade too much; I may have compared Pride in London to Vancouver Pride just a little too much… like, through the entire thing; or maybe it was the fact that it rained buckets that day! – In any case, London’s pride just didn’t meet my expectations, and left me wanting a lot more. With the rain as a complete damper, my friends and I ended up skipping most f the parade and the post-parade festival at Trafalgar Square, and opting for pub drinks instead.
A month later, I headed over to my second pride festival in the UK, in the coastal town of Brighton. To put it bluntly, Brighton & Hove Pride 2014 blew Pride in London out of the water, and it surpassed my expectations a gizillion times. The atmosphere of the parade and the excitement of the people was so vibrant you could almost feel it in the air. The Brighton & Hove Pride is the UK’s biggest pride festivals and it’s definitely worth checking out, with an interactive parade that reminded me of Vancouver (both in the way it was well-organized and the geographical setting itself), and the post-parade festival at Preston Park, which was great fun with good music and loads of stalls to keep us entertained.
Lastly, I headed to my third pride festival of 2014 at Pride Cymru 2014, the official pride for Wales held in its capital, Cardiff. Pride Cymru is much smaller than Brighton, but it held the same fun atmosphere, although in a much smaller scale. The group of friends I went with (all Welsh) were great company through the entire day, watching the mini parade (twice, actually!), and dancing the day and night away in the post-parade festival Main Event at Coopers Field. Aside from a little incident in which I got punched in the jaw and lost part of a tooth for trying to stop a fight between two pride goers (welcome to Wales!), I had a great night!
The Ghost of Non-Prides
No, not an official ghost, but in between last year and now, I have attended two gay-heavy events that, although not official pride events, could easily compete with some of the best.
The first happened by pure un-planned accident in November 2014 as I happened to be in Cape Town, South Africa, on the weekend of Gay Day in Cape Town, a street party that works as a teaser to Cape Town’s official Pride, which happens in the middle of February. Gay Day was so much fun, with various streets around the gay area closed to traffic and turned into a huge street party, in which drag queens performed, and a combination of live music and disco tunes alternated between two stages. The atmosphere was fantastic, and the only sad part about the day was that I had to leave early-ish, as the place started to really fill up, because I was leaving Cape Town that evening!
The second event happened only a few weeks ago in May 2015, at the gay-inundated European music contest Eurovision, which Eamonn and I went to in Vienna, Austria. This is not an official pride, nor a gay event even, but with a large gay attendance, the party was full of rainbow flags waving about, literally and figuratively!
The Ghost of Prides Yet to Come
This summer I will once again be gaying it up by visiting three prides. I am also once again being an ambassador for #mygaypride, an initiative set up last summer by one of my favourite travel blogger duo Two Bad Tourists.
The initiative #mygaypride, started up last year by Two Bad Tourists, is back again this year and will see a bunch of real travel bloggers (not wannabes, like me), gay website Gay Star News, and many more ‘ambassadors’ (that’s me!) spread the hashtag #mygaypride on social media, as we visit a multitude of Pride events this summer, all over the world. The hashtag is a way of uniting gay and gay-friendly individuals world-wide as we celebrate diversity and promote equality everywhere through sharing our experiences in and out of pride events.
To start up my 2015 pride season, I will be giving Pride in London a second chance, and I promise I will go with a clean slate and no preconceptions. I am hoping this year’s parade and celebrations will completely blow me away and I will have nothing but good things to say about it. My boyfriend Eamonn will also be walking the parade with his company, so I also have him to look forward to!
Secondly, I will once again return to Brighton & Hove Pride on the first weekend of August. A small group of friends will be going with me this year, and I know that I’ll have a great time making the mini-trek (aka the gay pilgrimage) down to Brighton in the morning, and enjoying what has become one of my favourite places in the UK, pride style! Brighton & Hove Pride is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and to add to the excitement, the after party at Preston Park has a fantastic line-up of artists and DJs, including Fatboy Slim, Hercules & Love Affair, Freemasons, and Bright Light Bright Light, so it’s sure to be a fantastic festival as a whole!
To end 2015’s pride celebrations in style, this year I will be heading over to pride in no other place than…. Reykjavik! That is right, my boyfriend Eamonn, two friends and I will be visiting Iceland for a few days, staying in Reykjavik and exploring some of the island from there. We planned to go over the pride weekend so we could experience the pride atmosphere as well as the country’s natural beauty. I am very excited to see pride in a country that, although quite small and fairly secluded, has been historically very strongly gay-friendly – can’t wait!
I hope all my LGBT and gay-friendly readers are looking forward to the summer pride season, and maybe you’ll be enjoying some of these festivals yourself… if so, please let me know, I’d love to hear! And don’t forget to tag all your photos under #mygaypride to keep connected!
What is the favourite pride festival you’ve been to?
If you’re not from Europe, you might be unfamiliar with the continent-wide phenomenon Eurovision, a singing competition in which a bunch of European (and pseudo-European) countries submit a singer(s) with an original song, and then award points to each other, until a winner is crowned. The winning country gets the honour of hosting the event the following year, as well as bragging rights for winning the competition.
This past weekend, Austria’s beautiful (very European) capital, Vienna, hosted the 60th Anniversary of Eurovision. With a bit of luck on our side, my boyfriend Eamonn and I got to go to the Eurovision final show as VIP guests of the Vienna Tourism Board! Not only did we get two tickets to go see the final, but also return airfare from London with flag carrier Austrian Airlines, three nights accommodation at the 25 Hours Hotel, and a city pass which included free transit and discounts at museums within the city.
VIENNA AS A HOST
The week-long event catered not only to those visitors who went to the live Eurovision shows, but to anyone who was in Vienna through its duration.
The large plaza in front of the Rathaus hosted public parties from which visitors (and locals) who did not have tickets to see Eurovision live could watch the performances on large outdoor screens. The weather unfortunately did not cooperate during one of the semi-finals, bringing a downpour which killed the party, but dry skies allowed the final to be a success.
Eamonn and I had tickets to the live final show, but headed down to the Rathaus afterwards to grab some food from one of the many stalls, and although the crowds had mostly dispersed by then, it was clear the place had been a huge party!
Vienna’s version of Eurovision had ‘Building Bridges’ as its general theme, which centred about connecting with each other, despite nationality or any other differences (which interestingly enough was Eurovision’s main goal when it was first invented a few years after WWII). As part of the ‘Building Bridges’ theme, Vienna wanted to portray itself to the rest of Europe as a gay-friendly and welcoming city, with the additional tagline adopted by the city’s tourism board for 2015: ‘Vienna, Now or Never.‘
To welcome the competition’s largely-gay spectatorship, Vienna added a number of welcoming features to its streets. A large rainbow flag hung down from the Rathaus (city hall), and small rainbow flags topped most of the city’s trams. In a more permanent addition, the city changed many of its pedestrian crossing lights to include gay and lesbian couples (as well as straight couples), instead of the traditional single figure.
Now, my moment of truth, which is likely to enrage Eurovision fans all over the world: I had seen very little Eurovision in my lifetime before this weekend.
Eurovision is truly a European phenomenon, which means it’s not as popular (or even known about) in countries outside of the continent – except for Australia, which for some reason has been a long-time fan of the competition. What I can honestly say now, after this weekend, is that I am a convert, and can now call myself a fan!
I had binge-listened to most of the entrants to the competition in the week before flying out to Vienna, but nothing compared to seeing the final show live. There were many songs I had listened to before and wasn’t crazy about, which I loved seeing live; in many cases, these under-appreciated songs surpassed some of my previously-favourite songs!
The evening, held on Saturday the 23rd of March 2015, was amazing. We had to be at the stadium at 7pm in order to get a good spot on the floor (which in case you’re wondering, is the best place to be!) and the show went on until nearly 1am, including voting and a final performance by the winner. Yet, the evening was fun from beginning to end. We ran into some friends and had a great time chatting before the show started, discussing the sets, and dancing during the intermission. The venue in the Wiener Stadthalle also had bars, so a couple of beers throughout the evening helped loosen us up to get a bit of dancing.
Aside from the music itself, what really blew my mind was the atmosphere on the floor. Not only was everyone enjoying themselves, it was also touching seeing thousands of flags from many different countries – as well as a bunch of rainbow flags – waving above the crowd. The artists also got a warm reception from the entire stadium after their sets; even non-fans like me got really into it: my hands and throat are still a little sore now from all the clapping and screaming!
The only downside of the evening was when Russia’s singer received clearly audible booing from many in the stadium at the start of the voting. This is obviously due to Russia’s blatant discrimination of LGBT rights, since the artist herself is very talented, and her song was definitely one of the best songs in the contest. Fans did not want a homophobic country hosting a usually gay-friendly event next year, but took the wrong approach, punishing an artist who has stood up for LGBT rights against her country’s laws. Thankfully, a little nudge from the hostesses reminding the crowd about ‘Building Bridges,’ and a heart to heart from Conchita Wurst (the beloved Austrian bearded drag queen, winner of last year’s Eurovision), turned the boos into a more accepting applause.
At the end of the night, once all 27 finalists had performed and the votes were counted, Sweden took top prize with the song ‘Heroes’ (we’ve been rooting for this song since the entry got announced, as it is a pretty nifty song!), while Russia came in second with ‘A Million Voices,’ and Italy third with ‘Grande Amore.’ Belgium’s catchy ‘Rhythm Inside’ ended up in fourth place, while Australia, a country invited as a one-time-only guest due to their long-standing support of Eurovision, ended up in fifth place with Guy Sebastian’s ‘Tonight Again.’
Biggest surprises of the night were Lithuania with the duet ‘This Time,’ which quickly became one of my favourite songs even though it didn’t do great in the competition, and Spain’s ‘Amanecer,’ which despite having a great song and performance, got only a few points. The live performance of France got roaring applause in the stadium, but the grandeur didn’t seem to translate into the TV, leaving the country in third-to-last place with only four points awarded. Austria and Germany surprisingly ended up in last place, without a single point awarded.
As I try to adopt the United Kingdom as my new home, I proudly waved my Union Jack flag, despite our entry ‘Still in Love With You’ only earning 5 points and ending in 24th place overall. Another guilty confession is: I actually really enjoy the song! It is a silly and playful jazzy melody, which would get me moving on the dance floor any day (after a few beers, especially).
The intermission proved to be another great treat. While the 40 voting countries around Europe gathered their votes, we were presented with an incredible half-way show filled with music, both upbeat drum & base and a classical chorus segment. Biggest highlight of the night was definitely when my group of friends and I ended up being recorded during the intermission, appearing dancing for about four seconds in front of an estimated 200 million viewers world-wide!
I am not sure if I’ll ever make it to another live Eurovision contest as visiting the show does require some serious commitment in the financial sense… however, this has been one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Europe, and I am so happy I got the opportunity to go!
Have you ever been to Eurovision? What did you think?!
Back in January, I dragged my boyfriend Eamonn and a few friends over to a gay travel expo in London, hosted by Gay Star News Travel.
The expo was small (having worked in the travel industry for over seven years now, I’ve been to my share of travel expos and markets, so I know!) but, surprisingly, had a raffle with a grand prize that consisted of a trip to Vienna, to see the Eurovision song contest final!
For those who don’t know what Eurovision is – so basically everyone who isn’t from Europe or Australia (not sure why, but Eurovision is super big there too!) – it is a huge multi-national European singing contest, in which countries submit a singer with an original song, then award points to each other to pick a winner. The winning country usually hosts the following year’s Eurovision, and the show goes on.
Despite most people outside of Europe (and Australia) not knowing about this event, Eurovision has launched the careers of a couple famous people over the past few decades – most notably, Sweden’s ABBA, and believe it or not, Celine Dion, my fellow Canadian that for some reason sang for Switzerland, taking that year’s prize for the country.
Last year, a lovely bearded drag queen named Conchita Wurst from Austria, rose to the top of the competition with her song Rise Like a Phoenix, earning the country the chance to host the singing contest this year in its capital Vienna.
And so, as fate would have it, my boyfriend Eamonn participated on the “Pin the Beard on Conchita Wurst” game at the Gay Star Travel Expo (a funny version of the popular pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game), and his entry to the raffle won him the grand prize!
And so, this coming Friday we are off to Vienna, on the winning trip sponsored by the Vienna tourism board. Our trip includes return airfare on national flag carrier Austrian Airlines, three nights accommodation at the funky 25 Hours Hotel in Vienna’s museum ring, a city pass which offers us discounts to various attractions, and of course, tickets to see the Eurovision final!
I’m especially excited about this trip as it will be my first 2015 trip visiting a new city (and country!), after re-visiting Rome, Madrid, and Bangkok so far this year. It will also be Eamonn’s first time visiting the city, so we already have a list of things we want to do, and most importantly for our foodie selves, places where we want to eat!
So if you’re watching the Eurovision final this year, keep an eye out for me on the television… You never know, you might see me there!
Last weekend I got to re-visit Bangkok, the crazy capital of Thailand, with a small group of agents from my company. It was a whirlwind, unexpected trip that left us all with some amazing memories.
The trip lasted only 72 hours (plus 12 hours per direction on flights!), but it was packed with fun activities, lots of partying, and just the right amount of relaxing by the pool!
While I got to do many new activities – which I will write about eventually, as usual! – I also got to re-visit some beautiful spots in the city, including the stunning Grand Palace.
Have you ever been to Bangkok’s Grand Palace before?
After a few days in Ankara, Turkey’s grand capital, we headed over to the other-worldly Cappadocia region in the centre of the country. On our way there, to break down the drive, we stopped at LakeTuz, Turkey’s second-largest lake.
Lake Tuz is a massive but shallow salt-water lake for most of the year, but in the hot and dry Summer season (just before our visit), large areas of the lake dry up, leaving behind thick remains of salt, creating a salt pan… This was the first time ever in my travels visiting a salt flat! If you’ve never been to a salt pan, it is a weird experience like nothing else I have experienced. The vast, pure-white colour of the salty ground stretching as far as you can see, creates a weird notion of space that makes it hard to differentiate things that are close by or far away, therefore also distorting your notion of size.
We spent about one hour at Lake Tuz, walking around the salt pan itself (barefoot, allegedly to absorb the minerals through our soles, which I’m not so sure is actually a thing, but it was nice to be barefoot anyways!), and took some nice photos of the flat, as well as the first of our group’s many “jumping photos” though our trip (yes, we were those people).
Afterwards, we had a quick Turkish coffee at the café overlooking the vast whiteness of the salt pan, and shopped for a variety of salt / mineral SPA products that are sold at the shops by the entrance to Lake Tuz. If you’re traveling through Turkey, I recommend you stop at LakeTuz… not only does it make a nice break on the road to Cappadocia, it also is a great place full of photo-ops and a chance to get some unique souvenirs or gifts.
Lake Tuz seems to be quite a natural stop for travellers doing the same route we did, but due to its size, it’s still quite easy to get away from the crowds and experience the flat pans in peace.
After a wonderful first few days in Istanbul in September 2013, Ryan and I, along with the small group of people we were traveling with, headed over to Ankara, Turkey’s capital. Yes, despite many people’s misconception, Istanbul is not the capital of the country… rather, the much smaller, less talked about, but still impressive city of Ankara, is.
“The heart of Turkey,” as it is sometimes lovingly referred to, is the official centre of the government for the country, and although the city is not as vibrant and seeping with history as Istanbul, Ankara is still a city full of monuments and museums that are well worth visiting.
An unexpected aspect about the city as a whole is that, despite begin a large city (with over 5 million inhabitants), Ankara is a surprisingly clean place. The streets and public areas are free of litter, and there seems to be a high number of parks and green spaces within the city itself… so much so, that at times I felt as if I was in a smaller, less urbanized town.
We had a very short stay in Ankara, but from what I could see, the city is very modern and Westernized. In many occasions I could have sworn I was in the Netherlands (in fact, Ankara reminded me of my very VERY short drive through The Hague).
Ankara has a variety of trendy, modern and busy restaurants, and from a walk we took after dinner, we also found a very lively nightlife scene… however, we were a little disappointed that a modern(ish) city of 5 million people did not have a single LGBT venue!
During our stay in Ankara, we visited the stunning Anitkabir Monument, dedicated to Turkey’s hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who led the country to Independence, becoming the republic’s first president, and plunging Turkey into the modern country it is today. Atatürk’s influence over Turkey is visible in pretty much every city in the country, but is nowhere as pronounced as it is at the Anitkabir Monument.
Anitkabir is a visually impressive, symmetrical monument built in the 1940s and 50s from a variety of cut-stones. The monument includes a number of buildings which house Atatürk’s mausoleum and a museum about his life’s accomplishments. The buildings, all uniformly mirroring each other, surround a large open plaza, and are in turn surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens.
The monument is further decorated with marble statues depicting lions and multiple human figures, giving Anitkabir a sense of grandeur, without the monument feeling pretentious.
One of my favourite things about any city, real or imaginary, are castles, so I was ecstatic to learn that Ankara has a castle, and that we had just enough time to go check it out before heading out of the city!
We drove up to the base of Ankara Kalesi, a medieval castle on top of a hill in the centre of old Ankara, and climbed up to the very top. Discovering the different areas of the crumbling castle as we climbed up the stone steps was quite fun, but most impressive were the views of the entire city surrounding the castle, up from the top.
Despite only being in Ankara long enough to visit Anitkabir and the Ankara Castle, I still think a visit to the Turkish capital is worth it if you are planning on doing a trip around Turkey in-depth. There are numerous other museums that I hear are worth visiting, but if nothing else, a visit to these two attractions is well worth an overnight stay!
Have you visited Ankara? What were your thoughts on this capital?
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s most important attractions. The structure itself is an architectural wonder, the art inside it is priceless, and the history of the Hagia Sophia is an important heritage to the world altogether.
However, more than the Hagia Sophia itself, there are other areas included within the Hagia Sophia Museum, that I didn’t write about… so here you go, a post dedicated specifically to the lesser-known, but just as important, Sultan Tombs.
During my visit to Turkey in September 2013, I went to check out the Sultan Tombs with my friend Ryan. The Tombs are a series of beautifully decorated mausoleums, each which contains a number of sarcophaguses that happen to be the final resting place of various sultans and their families.
Each mausoleum is intricately decorated in its own individual manner, with different colour schemes and designs on its tiles and carved doors, and are hence worth visiting individually. The older mausoleums date all the way back to the 16th Century, so the historical significance is no less important than that of other buildings in Old Istanbul.
A single entry ticket will allow visitors access to all the tombs, and the Istanbul Museum pass includes the entry to this area of the Hagia Sophia Museum as well. Keep in mind each individual mausoleum is considered a sacred structure, so make sure to respect the traditions and rules of Muslim places of worship, including the use of acceptable clothing and removal of shoes before entering!
Have you been to the Hagia Sophia Museum Tombs?
Had a fantastic weekend away re-exploring Madrid, the grand capital of Spain, with my boyfriend Eamonn.
I visited Madrid for the first time eight years ago in 2007, on my first trip to Europe, and it was great coming back to an old favourite!