Stockholm- A Culture Capital

Stockholm- A Culture Capital
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Month of a Crazy Person

Well today marks my last day in Ottawa, at least for now. I have had a lot of success with selling this year and I managed to do exactly what I hoped—essentially cram money making into a one month session so I could begin traveling as soon as possible. Between opportunities of friends and family I have managed to create an itinerary for August that may make you tired just looking at it. So here is a quick go over of what August should look like:

July 30th Fly from Ottawa to Kelowna for a family reunion.

August 2nd Drive from Kelowna back to Lethbridge (My home town)

Spend a couple weeks catching up with people and working on the side.

August 14th (Now this may anger a few of you) Fly from Calgary to Ottawa

This way I can get my Visa for Russia from the Russian Embassy and make a little more money. Apparently Canada needs Russian in Embassies in Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, but nowhere west

August 23rd Fly to New York and meet friends from home for my first tour of NYC.

August 24th go on Famous Fat Dave’s food tour. (

August 27th Fly from New York to Orlando. I will meet up with some friends from working at American Village and go to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park, and Cirque du Soleil at Disney.

August 29th Turn around and fly back to New York to see more of one of the World’s famous cities.

September 2nd-4th Fly from New York to Moscow, Russia to settle in before my teaching position.

September 7th- Start my work contract and get professional.

This should give me plenty of material for blogging so there will be plenty of pictures and articles coming up. If anyone will be at one of the locations I will be at the same time and want to meet up or make plans, please GET IN TOUCH.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

All Work, No Play.

Well I have not done anything too enviable this week, it has mostly just been a lot of work, reading, and plenty of admin for my upcoming travels, so I thought in the slump of action I would fill you all in on my current job. I am currently employed as a door-to-door salesman for ADT doing a marketing promotion for their security systems (we basically sell the service)

A typical day looks like this. I wake up; looking out the window hoping the weather will be good for the day, as I will be spending the entire day at its mercy working purely on commission. I have the morning to myself to do whatever it is I need, and then at 1pm we have an office meeting that is designed to go over our previous day(s) of sales and then get us motivated for our current day. A lot of times we will do sales training, role plays, or address any blips about new policies or equipment. Then we drive out to our area and hit the doors.

Basically from there on I spend the next 6 hours of the day knocking on people’s door and through good sales techniques, building the value of the product, and finding the interest of the customer hopefully setting them up with a brand new home alarm system. This task sounds simple enough, but throw in some fun ingredients like people slamming the door in your face, immigrants who either can’t talk English or want a bargain with you till they run your commission dry, people who are in a contract with another company, own a dog, gun, have an elderly parent or neighbor who is constantly ‘protecting’ the home, and you suddenly have a much harder job. The job is both easy (walking and talking is all you do), and mentally taxing (you are alone, working for nothing, being beaten off door after door)

The upside to most of your days on the doors, besides selling, is finding some of the quirkiest, and most irrational people you will ever find. THERE ARE FREAKS IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD! Over the years I have had people threaten to sick their dogs on me and have their husbands follow me around the streets, call the cops out of fear of a scam, and of course being told “I don’t really enjoy telemarketing at the door.” I have also been asked (sexual innuendo alert) ‘how big are you’ by a 50 something black man named William Brazil who asked me to ‘convince him to buy a system’ one night in Detroit. In essence this job is NEVER boring, you see homes that are gorgeous and meet people with incredible jobs contrasted to houses that look like a barrage of cannon balls blew through them and the family uses benches ripped from a safari van as a living room furniture. The lesson here: you never know who lives behind the doors on your street, and you may be thankful for your ignorance or missing out.

I think all sales people that start a job like this have a love hate relationship with their job. They are offered incredible money with unlimited salary, but all the responsibility is up to them, and the work in not easy. Sales are demanding of your time, energy, and focus. Despite the crazy stress and people, there is something besides the money that keeps me returning to the doors year after year. Pinning down what that charm is I have yet to do.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Treasures and Pleasures from the East.

Arriving in Canada’s capital city felt a little overwhelming; I had not seen more than one Canada flag at a time for the last 4 months and all of a sudden I was walking down a rampart with somewhere around 100 flags running down both walls. I was told ‘welcome home’ but I didn’t feel at home flying into a city I had never been and a country I had been gone from for so long. It was a nice display of patriotism and I realized I often forget about my Canadian pride, well at least until I have to put an American in their place. What really made me feel at home was my dear brother picking me up and crawling into his familiar jeep. It’s nice to go somewhere and know people!

I was blessed to have my parents fly in from Alberta the same night I came from London so that we could spend a week together touring the Country’s Capital. We spent the week caught up in Canada Day Festivities, touring the greater Ottawa area and enjoying the vibe of down town. We spent plenty of time in the downtown area called ‘The Market’ that originally founded and by John By, the man in charge of building the famous Rideau Canal. We of course went for a tour of our parliament buildings and saw the House of Commons and the Senate.

I feel the highlight for me was taking my first journey into Quebec. We took a daylong stint into Montreal. Here we shopped around old town and went for a very lengthy and filling fondue lunch before our main attraction—Cirque du Soleil. Now it may sound silly but I didn’t have any clue that Cirque du Soleil was Canadian or that most of their touring shows premier in Canada before they travel around the world. I felt so out of the loop that I did a little research on the company. The company was originally founded in 1984 by two street performers named Daniel Gauthier and Guy Laliberte. The company had mixed success until they had mixed success at first but caught on and expanded rapidly through the 90’s and is still growing. The company’s first resident show was at the Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas and is still running. Today there are seven resident shows in Las Vegas and there are plans for shows in Hollywood and Dubai. I am excited to see where this wonderful Canadian company goes and I hope to be able to see all these shows.

The most current show from Cirque is called Totem that is an exploration of the evolution of mankind. The show explores both Darwin style evolution but also looks at the evolution of our current society and different traditions from global cultures. It also looks at man’s aspiration to explore, expand, and ‘evolve’. The mix of comedy and refined spectacle was amazing. I have seen Cirque du Soleil in Vegas and even though this show was mounted on a much smaller stage it definitely delivers. Check out the show here:

To finish our night we went to Schwartz’s, a famous smoked meat sandwich restaurant which has not been glammed up or changed much since it opened in 1928 (well maybe a tad, but I swear not much) People line up out the door to get their hands on Montreal’s famous dish. I then crossed the street to indulge in some ice cream for the ride home. Who can say no to Chai Tea ice cream or Baby Monkey (Banana, Rum, Chocolate, and Vanilla) Finally I could say Bon Appetit again.

As I continue to work and tour Ottawa I find more and more to enjoy here, Canada’s capital is a good size city with a small town feel and a good amount to do. It doesn’t have the hustle, bustle, and grandeur of Toronto, but those who are looking for history, great food, and relaxation this is a good place to find it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Morocco: Part 5 Essaouira


Mila is from Australia and had never been in the Atlantic. I also love the coast so it was decided we had to get to a beach while we were in Morocco. We booked a bus to go to the coastal city of Essaouira. Essaouria is a city with a lot of history, originally a Muslim port city that was major pirate hub, and then later being influenced with the rule and architecture of multiple European powers for trading. The city has become a beautiful mish mash or architecture that carries a lot of spirit. We were lucky to be there at the same time that the Gnaoua music festival was on. This massive free festival hosts artists from all over Africa and the Mediterranean. The city is overtaken with large performance venues throughout the old medina and along the beaches flanking old town.

We spent our day of arrival exploring the town on foot, grazing our way through the food stalls, and running and lounging on the beach. We freshened up from the salt and sun in our accommodation and headed into town for a night of live music ranging from dance/house, to pock/rock, to traditional Moroccan music performed in Arabic in full costume. The interesting thing about this festival was that it is much more of a family event than what we usually see in North America and Europe. There are young kids running around and substance and alcohol abuse is few and far between. The concerts were more of a group celebration and the crowds get involved dancing and singing and shouting along.

We made it home late, and sadly for me things took a turn for the worst. I was struck down by food poising to a degree I never knew possible. Sadly the suspect food was from one of the nicest restaurants we ate at the entire trip. Always eat off the street in my opinion. I was up all night and was incapacitated for the next day and a half. Sadly I had to leave the next morning from Marrakech for my connection in London and said goodbye to my darling Mila until our paths crossed again. The illness didn’t put a shadow over my trip or the memories however. Morocco is a place full of life, hospitality, and adventure. If you want a place that is more exotic and full of culture, Morocco is a good place to start because they cater to tourists but provide an authenticity that can often get lost.

Morocco: Part 4 The Sahara

Atlas Mountains and Sahara Camel Trek

Sleeping through your alarm, waking up after only a few hours of sleep, packing your bag in the groggy moments of darkness when you first awake and rushing down the streets of Marrakech on foot with no water in your system would not usually be the start of something good. In my case it was. This was how I began the morning on my trip to the Sahara. Seven of us loaded into a big white van, a mix from Poland to America and headed south toward the Atlas Mountains. The scenery ranges from bleak and harsh mountain climates to pink flowered oases in the ravines. Through an 8-hour trek spotted with Berber settlements, small Moroccan towns, and desert movie studios we all lull in and out of sleep in the heat.

Once we arrive at the town or Zagora we say good-bye to our driver Akhmed, who after continuous jibes and secret hand shakes I have built an endearing father-like relationship with. We put on our indigo turbans and mount our new friends- The Camels. The camels are tied in two lines and we set off in a caravan lead by a couple of Berber tribesman. The camels are much wider than a horse and so your defenseless crotch takes much more of a beating. However once you get into the groove with your camel the ride is as pleasant and surreal as you may expect. The desert winds were mild and the heat of the evening was bearable. As we trot on the dunes of sand start growing and our camels wide hooves get put to good use. The timing is right and as we pull into our desert camp we catch the sun setting over the desert.

We are greeted with ‘Berber Whiskey’ a sweet and spicy herbal tea that actually contains no alcohol. But even in the heat it revitalizes our sore and sleepless bodies. Along side the tea the Berbers perform traditional drumming with Arabic singing as our dinner is being prepared. Mila and I opt to chat with the Berbers in a mix of broken French and English because their company is more enjoyable than the mix of tourists outside of the tent. They tell us about their lifestyle and how their families live in the nearby mountains. They are extremely hospitable and we soon find ourselves completely abandoning the other people on our tour.

Dinner is served and the tent is jubilant. We are served traditional chick pea soup to begin, a giant cous cous platter to follow, and finish dinner with a plate of fresh and juicy watermelon. After dinner people split up into groups and chat, slide down sand dunes, play games at their leisure. Mila and I have brought along our new Hookah despite the rushed start and we sneak off with the Berbers to smoke apple sheesha under the stars. We made close friends with a Berber named Ahmed (not the be confused with our driver) and he gave us each a gift of the dessert. Mila he gave one of their hand crafted plates and me he gave one of his turbans. It still smells of Berber today.

We were woken the next morning right before sunrise so we could see its ascent from behind the low-lying mountains in the distance. Then we took our first shower in days under the slow trickle of the desert water reserve. We made our way into the tent for breakfast where more Berber whiskey was flowing and fresh flat bread was served with butter and a variety of fruit spreads. There was a divine fig jam that was fresh and not preserved that was to die for. Figs, dates, and olives are grown all over Morocco, even in the borders of the Sahara. We then took our camels back into Zagora and the lovely Akhmed took us on our return journey home to Marrakech.

Leaving the desert I felt an incredible sense of loss and sadness, almost like having a sudden separation from your family or good friend. There is magic in the ever-changing sands of the Sahara and an ancient mystery to the land that draws you in. In the future I hope to return and go on a lengthier trek deeper into the Sahara where the sand tunes are towers and the people are few and far between.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Morocco: Part 3

The Souks

Once you move away from the square there is plenty to do, and also plenty of maze like streets to get completely lost in. Mila and I spent several days just venturing through different areas of the city and seeing where the roads and the people took us. Needless to say we ended up doing a lot of shopping in the streets. The Souks are markets where products are for the most part split up into different sections of the city, clothes, metal works, leather, antiques, spices, chicken, the list goes on. There is nothing more fun than spending some time with a salesman and driving a hard bargain for a set of teapots or whatever it is you are looking for. If you are good at the bartering game you can really walk away with some great items for great prices, however they tend to quadruple the price of items when they first offer so make sure you know the prices and don’t get had.

If you really manage to charm a vendor you can even get tea or more out of the deal. After spending about an hour of speaking Frangelish and picking out tea cups in a shop we got invited to have dinner at the shop owners house. We had a good feeling about the man and so we returned to his shop around 9 pm and we went with him to his apartment to make a traditional tagine, smoke sheesha, and enjoy some true Moroccan hospitality. On our way to his house we picked up beef from a market stall as well as a watermelon for desert. We took a taxi and were welcomed to a very traditional Moroccan style abode decorated with a lot of our friend’s own artwork and furniture. He showed us how to make tagine and cooked it over hot coals in the back garden. The mix of stewed beef, tomatoes, chili, and potatoes was amazing and we ate it with our hands and bread, as is the traditional way. The idea behind it is that we should taste everything directly from the earth and that the metal of utensils only taints the food. Needless to say the food was amazing, the apple tobacco was thick and smooth and even though we left dog-tired it was an experience I would not have missed.

Palaces, Tombs, and other Attractions

Marrakech is becoming a very hot tourist locale (no pun intended), yet the city does not have tons of big attractions like Paris or London with the Eiffel Tower, the London Eye, so on and so forth. The city is host to several palaces, gardens, and mosques scattered about the old city. The Royal Palace where the king’s mother lives is grand but can’t be viewed past the main gates, however there are some old palaces which have been opened to the public that give an idea of what it would be like to be a Moroccan monarch in the 19th Century. These palaces and mosques let you see an eclectic mix of Moroccan architecture and design. Marrakech recently uncovered a series of tombs from the Saadian rule that were walled up in the center of the city. The tombs shows some brilliant carving and tile work and if you look closely you can see what religion the tomb belongs to depending on the direction the tomb faces. We also got to spend some time with the stray cats taking roost in the tombs and even a very determined turtle.


Morocco is famous for its leather products and most if not all of the leatherwork is done by hand by groups of both Arab and Berber tanners and artisans. Originally trying to find a palace in the maze of Marrakech we had a man offer to lead us to the tanneries free of cost and he even threw in a ‘Berber gas mask” or a stalk of fresh mint for us. We soon learned that the tanneries were not only a tad dirty but also the smell of animal hides being soaked in everything from pigeon shit to dye didn’t leave much to be desired. However they were fascinating.

Once we arrived at the tannery another man took us through the procedure of how they first soak the hides to remove the hair, then soften them in pigeon feces, followed by lime and different minerals and then finally dyed to their desired color. We saw the tanners at work in the vats of treatment sporting hip waders and then were shown to a shop with finished goods. The shopkeeper tried very hard to sell us something of any size, but after feigning interest in several products over a glass of mint tea on the house we managed to leave without spending our dirham.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Morocco: Part 2

The Hammam Experience

A hammam is a traditional bathhouse that all Moroccans go to once or twice a week. Typically they use these instead of showering everyday at home like most of us in North America. There are a bunch of tourist centric spas that are basically a dolled up hammam that often attracts couples, however we decided we wanted to do it in traditional style and go the baths that everyday people use. We managed to find a male and female Hammam that were side by side since the baths are separated by gender and either have different times or different buildings for each gender. Mila and I decided to get one of the workers there to give us the scrub down so that we got the full experience. I said good-bye to Mila and we both went to our own hammam.

As I entered the hammam there is a basic change room where I am instructed to get down to my underwear (no nudity is allowed in male hammams) and I am then led into the next series of rooms. My ‘scrubber’ brought two large buckets with us through a few dim lit and dank tiled rooms. People are either bathing or scrubbing themselves down or having another worker scrub them. I find there are no big basins or tubs to immerse yourself in water but rather several hot taps that you use to fill your large water buckets.

I am taken to the last 45 degree room in the Hammam where I am motioned to sit down on the floor, and soon enough I have giant buckets of water being poured over my head and soon after I lay on the floor and have an olive based paste slathered all over my body. The paste is supposed get at all the dirt in your pores so that when you exfoliate it gets rid of all the dirt and skin. After I have paste all over me the scrub-down begins, they use a black scrubbing mitt that literally peels off more skin from your body than you think you could lose without bleeding. The black rolls of skin seem to continue to shed from your body to no end. As I was being scrubbed I watched another man have his butt scrubbed under his underwear and the man scrubbing gave me a smile… this was a signal of what was to come. When they scrub you they scrub ALL OF YOU. Other than the small area that is your package they get into your underwear and clean every part of you. However I didn’t feel in the least bit violated by this. My feet were then scrubbed with pumice and I was sloshed with a few more buckets of sternly hot water.

After I am clean I am given a massage, which is less of a soothing experience than being stretched in ways you didn’t know possible and other circulation increasing massages. The effect you would get from the chiropractor. I am then finished and allowed to go back and change. I am not sure if I can change in the front room due to the nudity rule and I have forgot a towel so I decide to put my clothes on over my wet underwear, thank the man who has taken good care of me and head on my way home. Apparently Mila had a similar experience sans underwear.

I absolutely loved the experience and I would go back every week if were to move to Morocco. I can honestly say that my skin had never felt so soft and healthy since I was born. Next time I may try going with my own scrub mitt and olive paste and see if I can get the same results.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Morocco: Part 1

Everyone wonders where inspiration comes from, and I would say it is the little things. Little things spark a tiny idea that compounds into bigger ones and often turns out in a masterpiece in the end. I would like to share the inspiration for my recent trip to Morocco: I was in Paris spending one night there before I was to begin my job in France and since the place I wanted to eat was not accepting anyone without a reservation I was searching the streets for a place to dine. I was outside of a restaurant looking at their menu when a man came out and told me it was great food and I should go in. Having already looked at over a dozen places and none of them standing out I decided to go for it. I was pretty much the only person in the entire Moroccan restaurant but I was served traditional sweet mint tea and a tagine with chicken, prunes, and almonds, this, mixed with good hospitality was good enough to sell me on the idea of going to morocco. From there it was just a series of circumstances and good prices till I ended up there.


WEATHER: Very Hot 35-45 Degrees C in summer

PRICE: Very cheap both for air fare and products. (Not as cheap as South East Asia)

ACCOMIDATION: Inexpensive, between 15-40 Dollars a night for private Riad rooms.

AVERAGE MEAL: 25-80 Dirhams (8 Dirhams= 1 Dollar)
FOOD: Known for cous cous, tagines, pastilles, brochettes, and escargots to name a few.

SHOPPING: -Not a lot of modern clothes outside of the European malls.

-Traditional Berber clothes and jewelry.

-Tea Pots, cups, tagines, and other kitchen wears.

-Natural pharmacies and spice markets

-Carpets and scarves.

-Cheap knock offs of major brands of clothes and accessories.

ATTRACTIONS: -Mosques, palaces, and other traditional architecture, tanneries, hammams (Moroccan bath house), Souks (the markets for shopping), Camel rides, Desserts, Atlas Mountains, and Atlantic coastal cities

PEOPLE: The people are very friendly and hospitable but keep up your guard and trust your gut.

NOTES: Nothing is for free! Directions or pictures included (of people at least)

Djemaa El-Fna

A great place to start your adventures is in the main square of the Medina (Old City). In Marrakech that is exactly where we stayed and where we began our adventures upon arriving in the city. Djemaa El-fna is busy all day but really comes into its own at night. The square is full of music, dancers, henna tattoo artists, snake charmers; you name it and its there. Every sort of weird human side show and performances you could think of can be found, and still some that make you scratch your head in passing as you see two men with a few pogo sticks and a variety of planks.

The square is home to dozens of numbered food stands all serving up their Moroccan specialties. The food is safe and delicious but you need to make sure you check that you get what you order and that anything they give you extra is not free. “You pay for what you eat” is what a particularly snotty salesman told us even after we got our order corrected once, running our bill to nearly double what we ordered. Be firm and don’t feel like you need to be nice.

Traditional foods are available; the sheep head and big bowls of escargot are just some of the more adventurous dishes, sadly our weird food night got cancelled due to a bout of the stomach flu on my part. However the square is not where you need to be most worried about ill prepared food because locals feast there all the time, but salads can be a concern. Spiced tea stands and orange juice stalls all fight for your business around the edge of the square and the juice is definitely worth it. You can get a glass of fresh squeezed OJ for about 3 DH (35 cents) that’s is truly nectar of the Gods. Mila and I had orange juice every day and we even kept up our AmVil tradition by making a girl as us for juice in English before buying her one as well.

The best part about the evening is perhaps the famous Koutoubia Mosque that overlooks the square with lights showcasing its enormous tower. Dive in, get crazy, and eat everything you can. The square is definitely the heart of Marrakech and branches out to all the other wonders of the city.