We said that we were going to run a series about the life and travels of our very own traveller extraordinaire Marko Korkeakoski and here comes the first entry 😉
Earlier I could have sworn I won’t write blogs but thanks to John Greene, I decided to give it a go. John has done such a great job starting Metropolia’s blog and then passing it on to students that I think I owe this one to him. There might be few readers who are outside Metropolia community, you’re more than welcome. Just bear with me as sometimes I write to my students and colleagues.
I think it’s best to start this blog by setting few things straight. I don’t do holidays. I travel which is totally different. Holidays are lying in the sun and sipping piña coladas in Caribbean. The essential ingredient of travelling is moving. And I do move a lot.
Another thing is that I will share my opinions in this blog. I don’t do it to change anyone’s mind about anything. I do it to ease my own mind about everything. There are some photos that I share in the same time. Have a look if you have time.
It is difficult to start writing after travelling more than two months and 16 countries. Where to start and what to tell? To those who don’t know the background, I took six months sabbatical from work and decided to travel to New Zealand. Flying there was not an option but my plan was to get there somehow over land and sea. No real plans other than making it to New Zealand in one piece.
Thanks to MTV, Facebook, Twitter and so on many people’s attention span is about 30 seconds so if you made it this far, congratulations! To do this more user friendly I have listed Top 5 and Not 5 lists of my trip so far. I shall return in few weeks time with similar set up (if it’s possible). In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, please do post them here.
Countries visited since the beginning of my travels:
United Arab Emirates
1. Experiencing Ramadan in Middle-East
I spent two weeks in different countries in Middle-East. It happened to be the time of holy month of Ramadan which meant no eating or drinking (at least in public) during the daylight hours. That meant the whole region was effectively shut down during the daylight hours but places woke up right after sunset. Those iftar buffets were delicious even though I have to say I am not sure whether it is healthy to eat so much food so late! I was obviously moving quite a lot during the day so it became interesting adventure to find private places to drink and eat without interfering with Ramadan followers (public toilets were pretty good for having snacks).
2. Super friendly people of Turkey
I have met a lot of friendly people on my travels but Turkish people might be the friendliest of them all. Most of the people see only the touts and gigolos on beach destinations but if you will go off the beaten track a bit you’ll experience the true Turkish hospitality. Many times I caught myself thinking these people have to have some hidden agenda but every time they proved me wrong.
3. Private dining and wining in Sveti Stefan
Montenegro might be my favourite country (of this trip anyway). They have so much to offer even though they are quite small country. One of the delights was Sveti Stefan, a private hotel “island” on the Adriatic coast. The only way to get to visit the place is either to book a room (starting from 600 Euro per night) or go for lunch/dinner. I have always opposed turning beautiful public places into private as they should be in everyone’s reach. However, I decided to swallow my pride and have early dinner. Food was out of this world and to make it better I got to talk with the chef and got private tour of the island. Sometimes carrying a big camera does not land you in jail!
4. Hiking in Durmitor National Park
I am visual person so I try to expose myself to beautiful places as much as I can. Durmitur national park in Montenegro was one of those visual experiences. Mountains, lakes, tranquil atmosphere and brilliant weather – winning combination!
5. Meeting my (ex)-students
I consider myself lucky as many of my current and ex-students still are in touch with me (and vice versa obviously). Meeting them on my travels is always a great experience. EM09 student Besi Shala was studying in Summer School in Prishtina, Kosovo when I was there and he was superb company. He told me a lot about how things are with Kosovo and I got to meet lots of cool people and see great places through him. I also met Robert, my student from my previous university in Turkey (we happened to be in the same city in the same time!) and another student Satu who has been living in Muscat, Oman for several years now. It makes me proud to see what these guys have achieved.
1. Hot and humid weather in Middle-East
I can cope with pretty much all kinds of weather conditions. Hot, cold and even rainy but there is one kind of weather that I just can not stand. It’s the combination of hot and humid. August in Middle-East is just that. Temperatures can be easily +45 C and humidity close to 90% which makes staying outside unbearable. Ten minutes outside and you might as well get back to your hotel and get another shower. To make this even more extreme, every place was using air conditioning at the coldest possible temperature – almost like going to ice swim from hot sauna but with your clothes on.
2. Mass tourism
I try to avoid mass tourist destinations as much as I can but I had few brief encounters with that. I cannot think of anything good about mass tourism (maybe employment but even that can be argued). It ruins beautiful scenery, it creates massive amount of trash and changes people to maniacs and destroys those features that otherwise might prevail. All of a sudden everyone is after your money. Do yourself a favour – next time you are choosing your holiday destination, avoid those where you can order your food from menu in your own language or drink beer in “Heikin baari” full of swearing middle aged Finnish men.
3. Iranian visa officials
My initial plan was to travel through Turkey, Iran and Pakistan but that plan was out of the window when I was told Pakistani visa will not be given for those who want to cross the border from Iran. It was apparently too dangerous. However, I really wanted to go to Iran. Many people hold negative views of the country but I have heard nothing but good from people who have been there. My visa process took ages and I was promised an answer 4-5 times “for tomorrow”. Finally it came and they refused to let me into their country. Big bummer, no reasons why. Well, that opened me new opportunity to visit countries in Middle-East but still, I hope to see Iran one of these days.
To this date traffic has been the most dangerous thing I have experienced – and this holds true to pretty much every country I have visited so far. Be it a taxi driver in Serbia who drove 140km/h on 60km/h zone (seat belts, what are those?). I also nearly crashed my rental car in Dubai when some idiot had stopped his car in a wrong place (see, I am pretty good at blaming others!) and buses here in Sri Lanka are roller coasters. With the difference that you don’t have to stand in roller coasters and the driver doesn’t drink hard liquor while driving! I think best is yet to be experienced. My next destination is India and something tells me that I haven’t seen anything yet.
Let’s set the record straight. I am not afraid of flying I just hate it. I don’t find a single reason why I should fly (hey, I have six months off so I don’t have to hurry anywhere). Security controls are crazy, waiting in lounges, passport controls etc. is pure waste of time, seats are too small for me and even the food they serve is often sub standards. My plan was to get to New Zealand with as little flying as possible but I have used so many plans already that it hurts to admit. Nothing beats long 12 hour bus or train rides. At least when the driver is not drunk.
Did you know…?
Holy month for Muslims when they are on the spiritual cleansing mood. Every day during this month they spent fasting so no eating, drinking, smoking or having sex during the daytime. Ramadan timings change every year.
Sri Lankan tea
Sri Lanka is one of the biggest players in tea market after India. Sri Lankans’ are proud of their tea which is supposed to be one of the highest quality teas in the market. Sri Lanka is ideal place for growing tea. You might want to consult Mr Keaney for some Sir Thomas Lipton facts!
Nicosia/Lefkosia are the only divided capital that still exists. Northern part is controlled by Turkish and southern by Cypriot. People in the island can travel quite freely even though there is still quite a lot military presence. Turkey invaded northern part of Cyprus in 1973. It is a long story so check it out yourself!
Have you ever wondered how new countries are officially formed? It is not enough just to declare independence but country needs to be recognized 2/3s of UN countries (among other things). Kosovo has been recognized by 81 countries (Finland is one of them) so they still have some countries to be persuaded. As you can imagine it is a complex situation with some countries having their own disputes over areas that want to be independent.
Free use of Internet inMiddle East is not possible. Almost all countries (maybe with the exception ofQatar which also is home to Al Jazeera network) do block certain pages (Facebook for example) and programs like Skype. Most of the time it seems really random, though.