"MASC4S_Window on the World" masc4s's Profile
Hi, I'm mike. I was born and went to school in the town of Stockport, in the county of Cheshire, England. Thank you for dropping by today and welcome to my world of travel. I'd like to thank VT for the opportunity to contribute our travel experiences and for the possibility of making new friends who share our enthusiasm for travel. I thought I'd begin by giving you an insight into how l got the travel bug.
I was just a young kid when dad bought his first car, an old used Ford with two seats in the front and space for freight in the back. He was very proud of this new addition to the family. So much so, it fired up both mom and him with a passion to explore England extensively at weekends and holidays. Available cash, dad's work and my school holidays determined these excursions. That old Ford never did make the international circuit.
Dad was of the opinion that travel broadens the mind, although he had never been anywhere. With this thought in mind on most weekends he would pack mom, me, the dog and as many friends as there were at the time, we peaked at 11, into that little old Ford. Compressed like a can of sardines off we would go, grossly overloaded and totally illegal, in search of adventure.
Those weekend trips were performed with my family's own particular brand of drama and chaos. Determined by available cash, not much in those days, and circumstance, "We'll go next weekend. If it isn't a holiday there won't be much traffic"! Our weekends away were genuine comedies of the era. This was my first exposure to the crazy world of travel. Some trips I enjoyed, some I endured, but I'm glad I was a part of it.
After the war, all dads family quit England to seek fame and fortune in Melbourne Australia. He stuck around because of mom, true love lol! We were fortunate enough to have mom's family still living in the Channel Islands, which meant that our annual vacations were spent visiting relatives in Guernsey. There was method in our madness. The weather was better, the islands were tax-free and the beds were free. The major panic was trying to make the 4am train for the coast.
The teen years brought high school, pimples and puberty. A time of learning, a time of trying to be an adult when I was not, but wished I was. A time of understanding where I'd come from, and where I was going. As soon as we step out of childhood, life loads us up with responsibilities. And the further we journey through it, the bigger, it seems, the load gets.
I came out of education with some reasonable academic skills taking in a few school-organized trips along the way. The arts did absolutely nothing for me although a poem I read has been an inspiration throughout my life and I'd like to share it with you.
This poem has stuck with me and been an inspiration throughout my life. I hope you get something out of it too!
Travel offered me respite from the mundane daily routine of life. Providing soul food for my curious mind in the form of hope. It gave me an opportunity to explore the shadows of my mind. Different people find beauty in different things. It may be a single red rose in a botanical garden or dining in style overlooking Niagara Falls. Soul food comes in different packages. I learned that the magic of travel is everywhere in the world, and I wanted some of it.
Mom was born on the small island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, twenty miles off the Bretagne-Nromandy French coast. Evacuated to England in 1939 at the outbreak of World War 2, she met dad, they married, l arrived! Thanks Adolf, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here!
My first travel experience outside England was to the peaceful island of Guernsey to see my grandparents. The 200-mile journey from Stockport to the south coast by steam train was followed by a 75-mile/120Km sea journey on the mail boat to St. Peter Port. After many visits my parents moved to Guernsey in the 1980's and stayed for 12 years.
One of the qualities of the Channel Islands is their close proximity to both England and France. Geographically the islands, which are within sight of the French coast, are fragments of France picked up by England. No passport required for Brits! They were part of the Duchy of Normandy when Duke William conquered England in 1066.
Guernsey has been an important island to England for centuries and was used as staging post in the wine trade. Ships to and from the Mediterranean used it for shelter and to stock up on supplies. Once a fishing village St. Peter Port is the most ancient town in the Channel Islands. The Town Church dates from 1048.
There are a total of five islands; Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark. All have excellent sandy beaches and a continental atmosphere blended with a British disposition.
They enjoy home rule, are self governed and a tax free zone. UK residents are required to clear British Customs & Excise at the first port of entry on return to the mainland. It's sort of like going abroad in Britain. As a young boy I found the whole scenario a really exciting experience.
LET'S FLY AWAY!
Travel first took off for me in high school. A couple of our more enterprising teachers organised a two-week vacation to the ancient seaport of Saint Malo. Included was a trip to one of the wonders of northern France, Mont St. Michel. They took about 20 of us kids along with them, they must have been nuts! I had a great time though! The travel bug had bitten me!*
The historic walled town of St. Malo is a fine seaport and successful yachting centre. Now a prosperous harbour for Channel ferries as well as cargo ships and fishing boats. Inside the town walls lies the site of old St. Malo, but what we see today is largely reconstructed. The original town was severely bombed and shelled when it was besieged in 1944. Fortunately the towns' people rebuilt and splendidly restored the old settlement.
Mont St Michel
Normandy's 13th century Benedictine abbey Mont St Michel, is a solitary outpost of Christianity separated by 1km of sea from the mainland at high tide. Towering arrogantly above the surrounding sea and coastal flatlands. The abbey is surrounded by quicksand at low tide.
You first have to cross a causeway to get to the abbey. Then make your way through the streets of the well-preserved medieval village that lies beneath. Walk up through the steep and narrow cobblestone streets to reach the monastic enclosure. Great view, you can see for miles!
The following year a cruise was organised to one of the oldest nations in Europe. Portugal is a small country with an interesting history occupying the western side of the Iberian Peninsular in southwest Europe.
It has been home to some of the world's greatest explorers such as Bartolomeu Dias, Ferdinand Magellan, and Vasco da Gama who found the sea route to India. Portuguese sailors explored the west coast of Africa and sailed east to India, Indonesia and China in search of silks and spices. They also crossed the Atlantic to the Americas.
We sailed into Lisbon, Portugal's capital for the past 700 years. This was my first trip here, and what a fascinating visit it was too. Lisbon is a treasure chest of antique art and artefacts that fill the cities ancient castles, churches and monasteries. It's a combination of old world charm and modern culture oozing with character.
This is the last city of the old world, and the first of the new. The food is superb and they make great port. The scenery is stunning and the Mediterranean climate is fantastic. That's good enough for me!
The second week we sailed down to Morocco, the land of crowded medieval bazaars and mysterious kasbahs. This was my first expedition into the African continent and it was awesome.
The sun was rising over the city, and it was already hot, as we cruised into the Port of Tangier.
Immediately on arrival we were besieged by a horde of persistent hustlers peddling their services as guides, hotel touts and any deal or product you can name, or care not to name! Welcome to Tangier! Parts of the city are somewhat seedy and the harbour front is no exception.
Tangier is a cosmopolitan city and Europe's gateway to Morocco. The medina, which is the market area, is the oldest part of the city and a heaving maze of narrow streets crammed with shops, masses of people and lots of overhead drying laundry. Most of the shopkeepers appear to have their homes on the upper floors above their tiny shops and work areas.
This is an intriguing city to say the least, which enjoys a pleasant climate, good beaches and some interesting Arabic and Spanish architecture. All in all, not a bad place and the food's pretty good too
After an exciting few days in Tangier we headed south for Casablanca. Founded in 1912 the city is a mixture of ancient and modern where mosques and ancient fortifications sit beside slick modern buildings. Between the two world wars and during World War II Casablanca was notorious for intrigue and espionage. It's now Morocco's largest and most modern city with a population in excess of 3 million.
The new city is chaotic to say the least. Standard high-rise office and apartment blocks consume the older and tattered looking buildings that date from the 1930s. There's a lot of evidence of French and Spanish links in this busy cosmopolitan city, which is also the heart of Morocco's commercial business.
On this trip I learned that to travel is to know irony. Wherever we go in the world there is always some poor soul mopping the floor. Yawning as they check your entrance ticket into the museum or snoozing as they stand packed like a sardine in a peak hour commuter train on the city subway.
In other words wherever we travel in the world our high spot is probably someone else's boring daily routine.
The high school 'controlled' cruise was a great experience but it was time for some independence. I planned a 'low-budget-time-out' epic car trip through Europe with three friends. This was to be a 'no-hotel-rough-it-in-a-tent' camping spectacular.
Driving to the south coast we crossed the English Channel by car-ferry over to Belgium. Buges is 17 miles/27km east of Ostend, and one of the best well- preserved medieval towns in western Europe. It's a pleasant small place completely encircled by a canal and crossed by several more. One of the nicest ways to see it is on one of the boat trips that cruise up and down the towns' canals. Its a bit like being in Venice!
Or trot around town on one of the horse-drawn carriages that clatter along the cobble streets. There are some amazingly preserved buildings dating from the 13th century and several brilliant museums. The town has lots of yummy chocolate shops, I LOVE chocs :-), and some quality lace shops for the ladies to browse in.
At night walk through the narrow cobbled streets with romantic views of the floodlit buildings and canals. There are lots of restaurants and 'canal side' cafes with a huge choice of Belgian beers! It was good to just relax and sit down outside a cafe and watch the horse-drawn carriages clattering along and listen to the church bells ringing out.
The Great Escape
After eating most of the gorgeous chocolate in Bruges. We left and headed south to Gent, east to Antwerp and south again to Liege. Crossing the border into Germany at Aachen we drove south to Frankfurt. Progressing on through Manheim, Karlsruhe and Strasbourg arriving in Basel at 1am. We had arrived in Switzerland.
We stayed quite a long time here. Touring extensively, not knowing I would eventually live here, gave me time to appreciate just how dangerous yodelling and playing the alp horn can be. I fell in love with the country; it is a photographer's delight.
If you would like to see more, please go to my Swiss pages.
We climbed out of Switzerland over the mountains and then meandered our way round the beautiful lake regions of Lugano and Como.
Italian car drivers are dreadful and the huge population of motorcycle riding kids are a nightmare! Sorry but it's a fact, my fact. Negotiating the tangle of one-way streets in Italian cities takes years of experience. Just remember 'senso unico' means one way, then find a car park and dump your car. Most Italian cities and towns are best explored on foot anyway.
Despite the 'will-I-get-outta-here-alive' driving scenario, the Italians are lovely people who live in a wonderful country and wow, can they cook food! Italy is a land of amazing architecture and ancient sites packed with the ruins of fascinating temples and crumbling dwellings.
On this trip we did Milan, another driving fiasco! This is a very modern city packed with art, history and disagreeable drivers. It's also one of the world's fashion capitals and the centre of business in Italy.
A visit to the enormous Gothic cathedral, the Duomo was a must! Building began in 1386 but wasn't completed until 1813. Well it does get hot here in the summer. It's the third largest church in Europe and the views from the roof terraces are spectacular. Don't make the mistake of wearing shorts or a mini skirt, you won't be allowed in.
After visiting some fantastic places of interest and consuming vast amounts of pizza we left Italy and went back to Switzerland heading east to Geneva. We did the usual tourist attractions in Geneva then crossed the border into France and headed north for Dunkirk and the ferry
Back in England and back to reality. Out of school, no classes, no lessons .no organized sports. No structure... no job! YIKES!!! No nothing! How was I going to celebrate this newfound freedom? It was time to consider a career!
I had developed an obsession for travel and was crazy about airplanes. Something uncanny takes place in the backdrop of my mind at the thought of travel. My senses take on a new reality. It's my brain energizer, my mind tonic and soul revitalizer. So that was it... EUREKA!!! I figured, why pay to travel, when I can get paid to travel. The answer... the airline business!
Once that decision was made I went to Manchester Airport and knocked on every airline and agency door looking for a job. By 5pm l was offered employment with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
I started work with them in air cargo ramp service at Manchester Airport the following week. In those early days somehow I managed to persuade them I had half a brain and I was tranferred into the office, and later into flight operations.
Within three years I was transferred to Amsterdam. At Schiphol I studied and acquired my Dutch RLD Flight Dispatch License. This allowed me to dispatch and flight plan aircraft worldwide. Thank you KLM.
One of the most magical places on earth Amsterdam was founded on a dam on the river Amstel in the 13th century. It's charismatic with a youthful outlook and welcoming attitude.
A city interwoven with a network of canals, narrow cobbled streets and quaint stone bridges. The buildings dictate it's old world character. Streets of tall, slim houses with ornate curved facades and white trimmings
It's amazingly small and easy to get round on foot but the concentric canal system can be confusing at first. Once you find your bearings, it's easy. The street system fans south and out like a spider's web from the 19th century Centraal Railway Station, which is one of Amsterdam's most significant landmarks and the focal point for city life.
In the summer the area comes alive with street performers battling for attention with the dangerous trams that converge from all sides. From here the Damrak, a major avenue lined with overpriced restaurants and bobbing canal boats pours into the heart of the city and Dam Square.
The medieval town centre boasts the best of the city's busy street life and is home to numerous shops, incredible nightlife with a huge variety of bars, clubs and restaurants.
To the left off Damrak stretching across two canals is the notorious red light district. In the tourist season it's crammed with visitors all excited to discover just how shocking it really all is. For many, however, its world-class museums and art galleries notably the Rijksmuseum, with its collection of 17th c Dutch paintings, and the Van Gogh Museum are reason enough to visit.
Amsterdam is a super place to live and a fun place to visit but all good things must come to an end. After a lengthy period of time flight planning under supervision I finally qualified to legally dispatch aircraft independently.
Two years later I was transferred to Canada and flew into Montreal on May 29th 1974 to a new life.
Montreal is the second largest city in Canada & the second largest French-speaking metropolis outside Paris. Just two-thirds of Montreal's 3.5 million residents are of French extraction.
The remaining third are a cosmopolitan mishmash of British, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Jews, South Americans & West Indians, which makes this a truly multidimensional city. Probably one of the reasons I blended in reasonably well!
The restaurants, bars & clubs are amazing and span the globe. Matched by a calendar of festivals that makes this one of the most exciting cities in Canada.
Quebec winters are unsympathetic to anything breathing. However the City of Montreal built another below ground, mirroring the one above. You can avoid the freezing weather conditions outdoors and do all your shopping and business in coatless comfort. That's what I call cool!
After 18 months in Montreal I was transferred to Canada's busiest Int'l Airport! Located on the lakeshore of southern Ontario, Toronto is Canada's largest, most dynamic, and most diverse city. Almost 3 million people live in this sophisticated cosmopolitan environment.
The heart of the city is Yonge Street where there's something for everyone! Major sports events, nightclubs of every persuasion. Pursue the needs of the libido, but watch your wallet! Eat junk food or dine in top class restaurants. Visit a bar to hear one of the numerous bands in the city, or go to the movies.
The theatre scene is brilliant, whether it be avant-garde productions or large international musicals. Stop off at one of the many ethnic outdoor markets or shop till u drop at the downtown Eaton Centre mall, there are 320 shops!
Toronto is a North American city run with Swiss efficiency. All this and only one hour from one of the wonders of the world, Niagara Falls! Toronto, I love ya!
Six years later I flew to Frankfurt and interviewed for a job which put me into Washington DC. Over the next couple of years I moved around Dorsey Md, Arlington Va and Manhattan NYC, NY. I travelled extensively while living in the States eventually relocating to Switzerland in 2000.
A beautiful low-rise city dotted with manicured parks and gardens.The founding fathers stipulated that no building can be higher than the Capitol Dome. Washington DC is the heart, soul and hope of America housed in buildings and shrines of spectacular dignity. A planned, deliberate and dedicated city with a layout and landscape that gives a spacious open feeling unlike any other major US city centre I have been in.
Despite the wide-open spaces this is really a small city with population of only about 500,000. Nearly 5 million live and work in the suburbs. Free of skyscrapers the White House, the Capitol and the Smithsonian stand loud and proud. Its easily explored on foot and most of its major sights are within a few mins walk of each other, or a short ride on the Metro.
It's home to a mind-boggling collection of museums and prestigious art galleries, many of which are operated by the Smithsonian Institution and most are free to visit, which is something of a rarity these days.
The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are all here. Join the line of teary-eyed Americans waiting to glimpse the inside of the White House, which is open to the public on a regular basis.
I wouldn't describe Washington, as a 'swinging city' in fact it has a fairly reserved, almost stuffy atmosphere about it, which I suppose is part of its charm. There are plenty of excellent bars and first class restaurants.
Surrounding the privileged centre there are a number of deprived suburbs where crime is a real worry. This contrast between extreme wealth and extreme poverty should, however, come as no great surprise!
Ten years well spent in North America but circumstances change and new opportunities arise. It was time to move on. May I invite you to join me in Italy
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