This is a blog post about countries I have visited around the world.
I have been to a couple of countries, but not as many as other people. Luckily I live in a big city in the UK, so am in daily contact with people of a wide variety of ethnicities and cultures, so I get an injection of foreign influence at home in Birmingham, which I enjoy. What follows is a description of what I was doing in each of the countries I have visited, and what I thought of it.
1) USA – I visted the US when I was 18. My first image of the USA is looking at Manhattan’s skyline outside JFK airport, seeing the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and the Empire State Building towering about the cityscape in the sunset as I climbed into a taxi. I spent five weeks travelling around New England helping my cousin sell POS systems for flower shops. My cousin, Tariq Farid, is a self made millionaire who is regularly on US television. I was great seeing Massachussets, Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. In Massachusets I shopped in bookshops in little English style colonial villages. In Maine I ate crab and walked along beaches during my lunch breaks. In Connecticut, where my cousin lived, I enjoyed a lot of natural beauty in the State Parks and by the Quinnipac River, which is also where the Sikorsky helicopter plant is. My cousin and I also spent a week in Florida, where we visited Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. I have fond memories of Fort Lauderdale to this day. I wish we had time to go down to Key West, Miami or up to Cape Canaveral, but we never had a chance. I also got to spend a little time in New York City, and went up the World Trade Centre with my cousin, which was cool. But most of my time in NYC was spent at a trade fair at the Javitts Centre. All in all the USA was a lot of fun though.
2) France – I visited Paris for a week in 2000 for IT training when I was working for a tech company based in Thames Valley area. One of the cool things I remember about Paris is the underground system. I thought it was miles better than the Tube as it had more stations and more regular service, and was cheaper. We were based in a three star hotel near the Bastille, but ate out at restaurants almost every night, so got a good grip of Parisian cusine whilst we were there. I got to do a few touristy things, even though I was in high intensity training in an office in La Defense most of the day. We got to go around La Louvre and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We went shopping on the Champs Elysses and saw the Are de Triomphe, as well as Arc de La Defense. I ate delicious seafood in a restaurant dans le septieme aronidissement and bought red wine from wine merchants near Notre Dame. It was a great week and I would love to visit again.
3) Greece – I spent 48 hours in Athens once. I flew there on a whim in 2004 when I was bored one afternoon. The entire trip was financed by my credit card as I wasn’t working at the time. In retrospect I should have chosen a package holiday to a Greek island, but I wanted to see the Collisseum and experience a little Athens culture. It was October when I went and Athens was boiling hot. I shopped in bazaars selling beads and cheap sunglasses and walked around the foot of the Collisseum, which at the time was covered with scaffolding. I ate Southern European food in a cafe and spent a lot of time in my non-air-conditioned room, on the bed, enjoying the hot weather. I would definitely visit Greece again, but perhaps not Athens as I would like to be by a beach.
4) Spain – My honeymoon was spent in Gran Canaria. We went in the week between Christmas and New Years Eve in 2007, and whilst it wasn’t roasting hot it was still warm enough to sunbathe quite a lot. We didn’t get to see much of Gran Canaria other than the Yumba Centre, a big shopping Centre in Playa Des Ingles. A lot of time that week was spent on the sunbeds by the hotel pool, rather than the beach. We did have a trip out to sea on a yacht to see dolphins and turtles but I was violently sick the whole time I was aboard ship, and there weren’t any dolphins that day. I think this is one of my favourite foreign trips, as it was my honeymoon and I enjoyed being a newlywed for a week with my wife.
5) Iceland – Iceland is a cool country, I was in Reykjavik for 2 weeks working for a phone company and an ISP. I went in November, and it was very, very cold. I only really got to see the city on the weekend between the two weeks, and I did a lot of shopping in Reykjavik. I didn’t really get a chance to leave the city, but I saw the Northern Lights, which is one of the reasons lots of people go to Iceland. I also ate Hardfisk, which was cool. I have a photo of me standing by a statue of Leif Errikseen by a church in Reykjavik, the church being one of the city’s tallest buildings. I loved the hot water in bathrooms in Iceland, it was slimy and smelled of sulphur. They also have nice coffee everywhere in Iceland.
6) Eire – I was in Eire for three months working for a phone company in Dublin. Dublin doesn’t really count as a foriegn country as it is so similar to the UK. I did drink in Temple Bar and visit a couple of museums. I remember a statue near the port of a starving family during the Potato Famine boarding a ship to America. Other than that I just ate in Pizza Hut and went to the Odeon, just like in a normal UK city.
7) Pakistan – I went to Pakistan when I was 25. I had a great time, although the extremes of poverty and wealth were marked. Its definitely the most ‘different’ country I have visited as everyone carried an assault rifle and the rats and ants scurrying along the streets were huge. It was also the hottest country I visited, one day it was 45 degrees. One of my favourite memories is driving up Murree, a hill near Islamabad that is 12,000 feet high (which would make it a mountain anywhere except the Himlayas!). On the way up we bought roasted corn from a man selling it by the side of the road. I also enjoyed plaing cricket with local kids and giving money to homeless people. I enjoyed Lahore more than Islamabad as it is a more distinctly Asian city, with all the chaos that entails. Another amazing memory is the salt mine you go through driving south of Islamabad, it is like something from a Wiley Coyote cartoon. Would definitely visit again but you need a lot of money to hand if you want a really special time.
8) Scotland – I drove from Manchester to Edinburgh in 1995 whilst I was at University, to visit my friend Ben who was at Edinburgh studying Spanish and Law. I went with Rashid and Chris, computer scientists, and Bryn, a philosopher. Also with us were Dolly and Neelam, ligusistics students from Taiwan who were friends with me and Rashid. It was December and Edinburgh was cold, wet and windy. We went to the Scott Monument and shopped on the Royal Mile. We stood at the top of Arthur’s Seat and stood in the carpark of Edinburgh Castle. We got there Friday night and left Sunday night. I spend Saturday night getting drunk with Ben in Teviot Bar on Pernod and blackcurrant. I really wanted to see the bricked up bubonic plague street from the Middle Ages under the Library, but it wasn’t open to the public at that time. We spent some time in a tartan shop which was cool. I didn’t eat a deep fried Mars Bar, but mean to next time I visit Scotland.