I am a Survivor of Domestic Abuse

I am a Survivor of Domestic Abuse

This article has been updated since its first publication in October 2016

Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

This week’s blog post has me worried.  It’s not quite in the same league as sitting on a ski lift in a blizzard and nowhere near as terrifying as snorkelling in the dark, but I am very nervous about posting it. So please be kind.  I am hoping that you will find it interesting, informative and that you will understand why I am announcing that I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

It’s so scary because this is an extremely personal post.  So bear with me and let me explain why I am posting this now and why it is somewhat different from my usual posts.   I normally bring you nice travel stories from Laos or Colombia, I sometimes subject you to my opinions such as in this article about diversity and occasionally I will sling in a post which hints at the reasons why I am now travelling.

I have been travelling for more than 3 years but the biggest and hardest part of that journey has been the personal one….

Grab yourself a cup of tea, settle yourself down somewhere quiet and read on.

I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

I was married at the age of 20 to a man that I loved and who loved me. We had two wonderful children and we lived a normal life.  We had a nice home, we took some great holidays and we each had a good job.  We made plans for when the children would leave home; we had a good social life and……………..STOP!!!!!

Rewind and let’s take off those rose tinted spectacles.

I was married at the age of 20 to a man that I was in love with and who I believed loved me.  We had two wonderful children. Just about the only time that we weren’t arguing was when we were away on holiday.

My first job was in a bank.  I LOVED that job but I grew to hate it because I was always walking on eggshells. In the good old days of banking all staff had to remain until all of the cashiers balanced their tills.  Every single day from about 3.15pm my guts would start to churn as I worried that I may be late home. Each time I was late home I would be met with disapproval and unhelpful comments such as ‘just walk out’ or ‘you should be here with me’ or ‘tell the boss that you are not staying late anymore’.

Each and every part of my life became dominated by having to second guess my husband.  But he would change the rules. Often! I could never win.

I will give you one example below but there are thousands to choose from. Individually they sound weak, I sound weak, but collectively they grow to something enormous, until they have the power to change your entire behaviour, your thought processes and your self esteem.

We would often go out with friends and enjoy ourselves (or so I thought). I would mingle, have my own conversations and laugh and have fun.  On the way home my husband would accuse me of abandoning him, of boring the people that I was talking to and of making a fool of myself.  In an effort to please him, the next time that we went out I would be attentive to him, stay close and listen a lot. Yep! You’ve guessed it.  On the journey home, I would be accused of not allowing him any space, being boring and looking miserable. But not every time. Not often enough for me to call time on our marriage; but enough.

So this became MY normal.  We had a home and a dog and our children but so gradually that I hardly noticed it happening I lost my own identity.  My life became one of second guessing my husband’s moods.  I would try to manipulate events in order to never be late home and I would make excuses for him when he would change his mind or his rules on a whim.

I was instructed on exactly what TV programmes I should record for him when he was out of the house (and lord forbid, I should forget). I was ordered to go and speak to teachers at the school if any issues arose and I was even told that our kids couldn’t have friends over to play if he were home. Not all of the time.  But enough.

I didn’t recognise any of these behaviours as manipulation and emotional abuse for many reasons.

  1. It was MY normal
  2. I fought back against him, insisting that our children could have friends around for tea, refusing to give up my social life and I began to study for a degree.
  3. I believed that I had economic freedom; although actually that is not much good if you are in a virtual prison
  4. I would continue to go out with my friends and I put up with it when I was ‘collected’ early from a night out with  them**(1)
  5. I worked extra hard to avoid confrontation. Sadly I didn’t realise that the increasing pressure that I was putting my mind and body under in order to please him were building up to boiling point.
  6. It didn’t happen all of the time. But enough.

 

Why am I sharing my journey as a survivor of domestic abuse with you now?

I can’t say that there has been one pivotal point during the last seven years because each of my experiences have helped to rebuild my self-confidence, however the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand was very special for me – you can read about that here.

I was interviewed for the Humans on the Road site (click here for the article) following which I have had nothing but positive feedback from people who want to connect with me and tell me their own story.

I have recently begun working with a coach (business and life) who is forcing me to face up to my instilled beliefs.  Together we are working on old patterns and behaviours which I adopted in order to survive a manipulative partner and I am reminding myself that I AM a good mum**(2).

More and more, people are telling me how much I have inspired them to think about their lives in a different way and how much courage I have shown in the face of adversity, so now is the time to open up and tell you too.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse takes many forms. Abuse takes many forms.  It can be

  • physical
  • verbal or nonverbal (psychological, mental, emotional)
  • sexual
  • stalking, cyber-stalking or harassment
  • economic or financial abuse
  • any combination of the above

The perpetrators can be men or women, of all ages and from all backgrounds.

No one type of abuse is any worse than any other.  Cyber-stalking can damage a person just as much as a physical beating.  Sadly, too many victims may take what they see as their only escape (suicide) because they can see no other way out.

I was extremely lucky.

I was failed many times by the police and the justice system in the UK, and I hear harrowing stories daily about law enforcement officers around the world who are so dismissive about domestic violence, but I had a supportive network of friends who were looking out for me, and a little later, I was referred onto the Freedom Programme**(3) which was my salvation.

One problem is that, especially in the case of emotional abuse, the offenders are generally excellent at portraying a different side of themselves in public so few people suspect anything is wrong.

After 25 years: surviving domestic abuse

My own situation began to spiral out of control; although it was gradual at first when I began to question our relationship.  I asked my husband to attend marriage counselling with me.  He refused point blank.

I now know that his pattern of excuses could have been lifted from a text book and that I was never going to win; but I was very naive at the time and I so wanted to make our marriage strong again that I kept on fighting.

The excuses over the course of a few months were along these lines,

  • There are no problems in our marriage
  • You may have some problems
  • I am not going to marriage counselling to be lectured by a do-gooder in a twin-set and pearls
  • You are neurotic/menopausal
  • You could do with some help
  • Why don’t you go to the doctor
  • A marriage counsellor will only confirm that you are neurotic
  • We just need a holiday
  • There is nothing wrong with me
  • Find a male counsellor and I may consider going along
  • Why can’t you just be like you used to be?

So I went alone to counselling.

And my ‘caring’ husband who just wanted to help me to ‘get better’ refused to discuss or even listen to what had happened in that first meeting.

I went a second time.

And this tiny little elderly lady, who was in fact wearing a twin-set and pearls, opened my eyes.  She asked if I were happy.  She asked if I had any regrets.  She asked me how long I had been fighting to change myself in order to placate and please my husband.

Boom!!

I realised that he would never change if he wouldn’t even listen to me, so to shake him up a little bit I told him that I wanted two weeks – just two weeks apart from him because I needed to think things through.

I planned to find a little country cottage miles from anywhere where I could sit and think.  I guessed that I would come to my senses and return (if he would even agree to have me back) and life would continue along the same path as before.

BUT, as it began to dawn on him that he might actually be losing control of me, things began to escalate.

The gas-lighting and controlling incidences began to happen more of the time. And I was now aware.

And then I met another man.  He was living his own version of an unhappy marriage and we talked.  He asked if I were happy.  He asked if I had any regrets.

I began by trying to persuade him to stay with his wife (a colleague of mine) and he began by trying to persuade me to remain with my husband.

But as we talked I realised that MY normal was in fact not normal at all.  There were empowering men out there.  Men who wanted their wives to stretch themselves and who were not themselves threatened by a strong or an educated woman.

There were men out there who would allow their wives to go away with work colleagues for a weekend**(4) and men who didn’t constantly compare their partners to others or put them down in public but pass it off as a joke.

There were men who wouldn’t throw a tantrum or sulk for days on end if I were to forget to record Emmerdale (oh yes!), or if I wasn’t ready and waiting to open the garage door when he drove up after work.

So me and my new friend talked some more.  And I decided that I wanted this sort of a man.  Not this actual man but someone who would support me and who would not be threatened by me and who wanted me as an equal.  I wanted my husband to be a man like that.

But by now, I realised that my husband would never change.  He could never change. He didn’t want to ever change.

You must remember that we had two wonderful children.  I didn’t want to tear their home environment apart.  I had come this far (I had actually considered leaving 8 years previously when I suspected my husband of having an affair), so I naively believed that if I took a couple of weeks away I could sort out MY problems and return to being the wife that he wanted and behave in a way that I was expected to behave.

So I insisted on two weeks away.

The arguments got more intense and his behaviour became more threatening.  Instead of attempting to placate me or entice me to stay he became ever more accusing.  He explained that my request was obvious justification for my increasing madness.

Crisis Point

Whilst I still hoped for my dream husband to emerge from this creature that I now saw, I guess that deep down I knew that he would never change and so I began to make plans.

I opened a bank account in my own name and I packed a small bag.

And then after a month during which he stood in the kitchen and screamed how he hated our son**(5), when he told me that I had to give up my ongoing Open University degree because…wait for this one…. ‘I was getting ideas above my station’, and he informed me that I would NOT be allowed to use my phone and text in front of him ever again, I left.

I left in the middle of the night.  Our son had already been forced to move out of the house and was living in a bedsit**(6), and our daughter was about to go and spend a week in Spain with her friends.

During a massive argument that night the bedroom was trashed.  My clothes were swept out of the wardrobe by my husband in a red-hot rage.  He tried to wrestle my phone from me but I ran out into the street.  Out there, things calmed down as he needed to present a lovable front to the neighbours.  But after he had left to take the girls to the airport, and after I had sat and cried solidly for 5 hours amongst the trashed bedroom, I picked up my small bag and I left.

Taking back control.

That was the beginning of another chapter in my life.  It was a dark time.  At one point I absolutely lost the will to live but with the care and the love of my family and my friends I grew strong again.

No longer able to control me, my husband swung between victim (crocodile tears), to loving father (now he NEEDED our son to be strong and to support him), to threatening myself and my friends.  He tried to force his way into a friend’s house, he sent disgusting letters to others and he terrified another friend by rampaging around her garden at two in the morning.

I filed for divorce.  It took over three years to be granted and during that time he persuaded our children that they should have no more contact with me.  He was the victim in all of this, right?

I was bullied in work and the management stood by and did nothing.  Quite frankly they were out of their depth, weak and inept (that is another whole long story which I will spare you from now) but I spent eight long nightmare months being totally ignored by the people in my office.

I crashed and I burned in a total meltdown.  I spent weeks limping from day to day in a (prescription) drug induced haze.  I came close to checking right off this planet. To this day I believe that a guardian angel was watching over me and it was not my time to go.

I decided to take back control.  I made the decision to live.  Now I was going to design the best lifestyle for myself that I could imagine.  Treating myself as an ongoing project, I drew up the outline of a plan and I worked on myself.

I was going to make the best of a bad situation and I was going to be the best.

I bided my time, waiting for my divorce.  Waiting for my children to understand that there are always two sides to an argument and waiting for them to reply to my messages and cards.  Waiting for the police to take action and put a stop to the harassment and the stalking that my ex-husband was subjecting me to**(7).

While I was waiting for my divorce to be finalised I began a transformation.  The eggshells became less crunchy and I started to trust my own instincts without having to defer to another person.

With sheer will power and determination my own character that my husband had obviously recognised and attempted to crush all of those years ago began to emerge from the debris.

Tentatively at first, but then faster and faster I hurtled forwards.  I got my decree absolute, my degree in Sociology & Geography and I quit my job.

I am the first to admit that I was terrified when I stepped on board my flight to Lima. I was convinced that I would never be able to cope and I would be lonely and alone.

And for a couple of weeks I wanted nothing more than to head back to my now long gone little apartment and to curl up and to hide under the bedcovers.

Six weeks after that I was celebrating the start of a New Year by the side of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and three months later I knew that I would not be returning any time soon.

And I didn’t go back. Project Me was a success.

Ok – it hasn’t been 100% successful because my children still choose to condemn me for leaving an unhappy marriage, but I did what I did at the time in order to survive.  I have to have hope and faith that one day they will recognise how their father used them as pawns. I don’t want them to reject him but simply to allow me to be their mum again.

I have been travelling for more than four years, mostly solo and thriving on challenges, realising that many people do not find me boring as I was so often told. I have met so many people who tell me that my courage inspires them too and who ask me to help them to move themselves forwards.

And this is my work now.

I run my own business helping people to realise their own value and self esteem.  I work with clients who come from all sorts of backgrounds and I inspire them to live the best life that they can.  I encourage them to push themselves; because it is only when we step out of our comfort zone that we discover what we are capable of.

I mentor them and we work together so that they can identify their passions and they can incorporate those passions into their own dream lifestyle; and all the time, along the way they are building their self belief.

But I am not ashamed of my life journey and I am proud to stand up and say ‘I am a survivor of domestic abuse’.  For every woman and man who will stand up and announce the same, there may be another person out there who believes that just maybe, they can also find the courage to stand up and REALLY live their lives.

Thank you for hanging on in here.

If you have made it to the end of this rather long article, thank you.

I offer no apologies if you would have preferred a post about my experiences in the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia or hwo to survive the night in a hostel because maybe this article will strike a chord with some of you and it may help many of you who are moving towards your own dreams.

If you want help to become a survivor (not necessarily from domestic abuse, but from whatever it is that’s holding you back), or if you want to share your own experiences with me, please do reach out to me and let’s connect. It’s not that scary. I do understand because I have been there. Opening myself up and sharing this article with you was scary, but now the ‘send button’ has been pressed and it seems that it has turned out OK!

You can leave a comment below or connect with me by email because I would love to hear from you.  And please, if you know anybody who could do with a gentle push to make some changes in their life, do forward them this article.

Thank you for listening to me.

My name is Jane and I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

 

It is estimated that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives (Home Office 2007)

 

**(1) I was told that because he cared for me he would collect me from an evening out with friends. Great – or so I thought. But time and time again he would arrive early and insist that I leave with him, even if we hadn’t got as far as ordering the desert after a meal.  I couldn’t make a fuss in front of my friends so I would comply because the alternative was unthinkable.  He would be moaning for the next week or worse… my fear was that he would ‘kick off’ in front of my friends…so I kept my mouth shut and I did as I was told.

**(2) On my very first night out a couple of weeks after our first child was born I went to a Tupperware party in a friend’s house.  I received a phone call and I was told that I had to return home immediately as our son was crying and my husband was unable to settle him.  I could hear distressed screaming in the background – so obviously I left quickly.

Baby fed; check.  Clean nappy; check. Solution: walk around with baby on my shoulder until he fell asleep.  Easy peasy.  THAT was just the first and one tiny incidence of millions – but it took me a long time to realise that it came from a position of one person controlling another, and crucially from a person using the children as a weapon.

**(3) The idea for the Freedom Programme evolved from an excellent book called ‘Living with the Dominator’ by Pat Craven.  I really believe that this book should be compulsory for all older teens and adults.  Click and order the book if you want to know more.

**(4) When I was working for a bank the management arranged a weekend away in a country house hotel for about 20 staff as a prize for our productivity. I was thrilled to be chosen but my husband’s reaction confused me.  He initially insisted that he be allowed to come too (WTF??), and next, that I should decline the invitation because partners were not to be included.  I had every reason thrown at me by him.  He couldn’t trust the other men going, I shouldn’t want to go without him, we were a team and should do things like this together…blah, blah, blah.  I did go away for that weekend but I spent my time balancing on those by now familiar eggshells. He promised to phone me at some time, saying that if I had nothing to hide I should obviously be free to speak to him. So I left our evening meal early and instead of joining colleagues I went back to the hotel to wait for his call.  Unless you have ever been the one trying to placate somebody like this you are probably reading this and thinking that I was weak but you have to understand how living like this gradually creeps in and takes over your whole life.  I wasn’t weak.  I was strong and I was doing my best to survive in my own way.

**(5) I KNOW that I am a good mum because I spent nineteen years standing as a buffer between his moods and our children.  I spent nineteen years telling our son that he was not stupid despite what his dad said and seventeen years telling our distraught daughter that everything would be alright.  Randi G Fine explains all of this rather better than I can

**(6) I am not proud of the fact that I allowed our son to leave home, but I know now that I was getting him to a safe place.  If things went badly and I wasn’t allowed to return to my marriage I would no longer be able to protect him from his father’s rages and destructive comments.

**(7) Whilst there are some excellent police officers out there, sadly there are many who don’t understand or who can’t be bothered to learn about domestic abuse.  I finally found a wonderfully professional and supportive officer (thank you Officer N – I hope that you know who you are); but sadly not before many who went before her had abused their position.  I have several letters filed away from the Chief Constable apologising on several occasions for the behaviour of some of his officers – yet sadly the incompetence and conspiracy occurred more than once.

If you would like to become a survivor of domestic abuse…

You can find out how I now empower men and women to realise their own identity again by working with them to build their self esteem.  If you are not sure whether I can help you or somebody that you know, please do drop me an email and we can have a chat.

You can find out more  

Learn more about becoming a survivor

www.scarletjonestravels.com/courses/
and you can drop me an email at info@scarletjonestravels.com. I am always happy to chat and offer advice.

I am passionate that more people learn a lot quicker than I did (it took me 25 years of marriage) about coercive control, domestic violence and the inbalance of power in a relationship.

And don’t forget to check out Pat Craven’s excellent book, and if you are in the UK find out if there is a Freedom Programme running near you

 

Explore Singapore: top things to do in Singapore

Explore Singapore: top things to do in Singapore

Singapore sits on the bottom tip of the Malaysian Peninsular in South East Asia. It’s joined to the mainland by two bridges.  In this article I will tell you the top things do in Singapore and how to explore Singapore on a budget.

Yes, Singapore can be expensive, but it’s not necessarily as expensive as you might think.  There are ways to reduce costs and ways to see the main sites in the city without breaking the bank.

“This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links.  Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com”

(Almost) Everything that you need to know about Singapore.

Singapore gained its independence in 1965 and it now has a reputation as one of the top financial and economic centres of the world.  According to Wikipedia Singapore was actually booted out of Malaysia when the Parliament of Malaysia voted 126-0 in favour of the expulsion on 9 August 1965 following race riots the previous year. On that day, a tearful Lee Kuan Yew announced on a televised press conference that Singapore was a sovereign, independent nation.

Singapore has the nickname ‘the fine city’.  This has a double meaning.  Fine – as in very nice and fine, and fine as in a penalty fee for an offence.  It is illegal and you can be fined for dropping litter, chewing gum in public or crossing the road outside a designated crossing place or against a red light, to name but a few things.  The government rules with a tight fist and there are harsh penalties for many misdemeanors.

City living in Singapore

City living in Singapore

However, the majority of the citizens are happy to accept the tight rules and regulations in return for a calm and ordered way of life.  In fact, each of the huge apartment buildings have to adhere to strict racial quotas – no more than a certain percentage of an ethnicity can occupy each building at any one time.  If you are of Chinese heritage and want to buy or rent in a particular location you have to wait until another Chinese family moves out and the same goes if you are Indian or Malay too.

Travelling to Singapore

I took one of Norwegian’s direct flights from London to Singapore.  It was a budget ‘no frills’ flight but because I wanted to check my backpack into the hold I paid a little bit extra which also bought me two airline meals, a snack and some drinks on board.

The plane was a Dreamliner which has larger than normal windows and ‘mood lighting’! The interior design gives the appearance of more space, the air system is definitely superior (no dry eyes or a cough for me) and I was thrilled to find that my neighbours were just as keen to talk as I was and they had interesting lives too.

I found my extremely cheap flight by searching on Skyscanner and booking through the link that they supplied – click here to search for the best deals or read more in the panel at the end of this post.

Sophie is a deputy head zoo keeper in the UK and her partner Marcus has more energy and enthusiasm than anybody that I have met for a long time so it will be great to follow their adventures around Malaysia and Singapore, and as a bonus I am hoping to get some useful tips from Sophie about visiting an ethical Orang Utang reserve for when I go to Malaysia.

Take a good guide book which will help you get around the city (Lonely Planet have some good deals and contain loads of information and maps) and sign up for Uber which is widely used.  I was hardly ever kept waiting but both the metro and the bus system are cheap and as you might expect, efficient too.



 

Divali or Deepvali – the Hindu festival of light

My friend Belinda who lives in Singapore and I went along to find out how the Hindu festival of light – Divali – is celebrated in Singapore.  Belinda and I first met when we were volunteering at the same NGO in Peru, and have subsequently met twice in Thailand and previously in Singapore.

First we ate lunch in a wonderful vegetarian restaurant called the Komala Vilas which is opposite the main temple.  We were surrounded by Indians; the ladies were wearing some fabulous saris because you should wear your most colourful clothes for Divali, and we ate the traditional way using just our right hand.

Hindu temple in Singapore

Hindu temple in Singapore

After our meal we crossed the road and after removing our shoes and washing our feet we joined hordes of people in the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple where we walked slowly in a circular route around the various Hindu gods and goddesses.  We received an auspicious ash bindi from a couple who took the time to explain the various customs and then were bemused by another gentleman who wanted to give us a red bindi.  Indicating that we should hold out our hands, but slapping down my pro-offered left hand (I should have known better) he poured a little pile of red powder into our palms.  Confused Belinda and I looked at each other.  If we were not to use our left hands how could we dot our foreheads?  Another lady rescued us and tutting loudly and shaking her head she ‘dotted’ us before scurrying off.

The left hand is considered dirty in many cultures and should never be offered to anybody.  During our meal, both myself and Belinda actually sat on our left hands to remind ourselves not to use it.  No matter how much I practice I don’t think that I will ever get the hang of tearing up bread with just my right hand.  I have always wondered how somebody who is left handed copes – or are they simply forced to adapt from birth?  If you know the answer to this question, please let me know in the comments below.

Singapore – a green and sustainable city

Everywhere in Singapore you will see gardeners carefully tending the many green spaces.  Despite the skyscrapers and the modern buildings there is an awful lot of greenery (and water) around.

If you want to learn about how Singapore is doing its best to conserve energy and resources then you should visit the Gardens by the Bay.  Here, huge artificial supertrees loom high above the park, supporting amazing vertical gardens.  There are many sections to this huge park, entrance to most of it is free, and all sections are highly educational as well as just downright pretty.

Budget things to do in Singapore - go to a park

Budget things to do in Singapore – go to a park

I cycled from my friend’s home through parkland that runs alongside the seashore next to the beach to the Gardens by the Bay with views of literally hundreds of container ships and tankers anchored up and waiting to get in or leave the port.  I crossed the large barrage which was built to create a freshwater reservoir for the city and then I entered the huge parkland where sustainability and environmental protection is taught on entertaining information boards and displays.  Despite no hills, I was a soggy blog of sweat by the time that I finally got back home – the humidity in this city is intense – although as I was soon to discover, it was nothing compared to the heat in Melacca.

Explore Singapore: top things to do in Singapore

I began my Saturday by meeting a friend at the Merlion.  Singapore was named the ‘lion city’ after a Sumatran prince landed and claims to have seen a lion.  Singa is the word for lion in Malay and this iconic statue was the main symbol for the city before the amazing Marina Bay Sands Resort replaced it on all of the glossy brochures.

I drank tea with David in the beautiful building that is now the Fullerton Bay Hotel before heading off to Fort Canning Park.  This large hill overlooks Singapore and it was initially the place where the Malay royalty built their palaces, and later it was where Sir Stamford Raffles (the founder of modern day Singapore) chose to build his first home and a botanical garden.

Once the British colony was established, they built a fort and a military base and the two main buildings remain as a reminder of the grandeur that the officers would have lived in.

I visited the Battlebox (entrance costs S$18 and includes a guide) which is the underground bunker constructed in the 1930’s and from where the British Far East Command Headquarters ran operations during World War II.  The excellent tour was led by Aysha who explained the story of how and why the historic decision to surrender Singapore and its million citizens to the Japanese was made.

We walked through many of the underground rooms and learnt how the communications worked, the ventilation system and also much of the psychology behind the wartime planning.

There was a huge responsibility on the officers and their subsequent decision to surrender. As a result of this decision 80,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were taken into captivity in horrific conditions and one million residents of Singapore were exposed to three years of terror and many were executed.

There is an amazing book by Eric Lomax that documents the life of one of these soldiers who was put first into Changi prison in Singapore and later transferred to Burma to work on the infamous ‘death railway’

You can order your own copy of The Railway Man at this Amazon link– and while I haven’t seen it, afilm has been made too.

I visited Hellfire Pass and Kanchanaburi when I was in Thailand.  This was an extremely moving place with an excellent museum showing how the Japanese forced their prisoners of war to build their railway so quickly – click here to be taken to that article

After emerging from the Battlebox I spent a very happy hour or so exploring the park and taking in the Spice Trail, part of the original cemetery and the various buildings that are dotted around, all in wonderful surroundings in this oasis above the city. www.battlebox.com.sg

As I wandered down the hill and back towards the city I passed through the massive concourse of the National Museum of Singapore and then I passed the Peranakan Museum.  I paused to ask how much the entrance fee was just as a guide was introducing himself to a group of visitors.  He was so engaging and so interesting I immediately bought a ticket so that I could tag along.  I wasn’t disappointed either as our guide took us to the best exhibits in the museum and explained much of the Peranakan culture (entrance cost me S$10 with a free guide thrown in).

The imposing National Museum of Singapore

The imposing National Museum of Singapore

Displays in the museum cover Peranakan life through their birth, marriages and death.  The culture is rich in colour and with beautiful ceremonies.  Peranakan means ‘child of’ or ‘born of’ and it refers to people of mixed ethnic origins in the Malay Peninsula.  The majority of these people were initially traders and business people who met and mixed through marriage and who have assimilated several cultures, be they Chinese, Malay or Indian.  Originally, the traders from China and India arrived in Malaysia on the trade winds but they had to stay awhile until the favourable winds could return them to their homeland.  Consequently many fell in love and married Malays and their descendents became known as Peranakan.

Singapore always confuses me so I was very pleased when our guide who was leaving the building as I did, offered to accompany me part of the way to my bus stop which was in the direction of his metro station.  Sadly I didn’t get his name but I would have loved to have talked some more with him because he was so passionate about his work.  I do know that he used to lecture in tourism and lives across the border in Malaysia…so if you do come across him, grab his tour.

Map of Singapore

 

Food and friends

I was very pleased to meet Faisal again whom I had met in a hostel in Porto, Portugal earlier this year.  We shared lunch (Malay food) in a mall and caught up with the gossip and Faisal told me some more about his business in Singapore – teaching both adults and children how to cycle.

I love to hear how entrepreneurs discover their niche and teaching children to cycle was quite alien to me.  In the UK, kids generally graduate to a small bike with stabilisers after their pedal tricycle and after spending a Sunday in the park with a parent or grandparent they are just left to their own devices to learn how to ride.  I remember vividly the day that I cracked my bike riding.  I had had the obligatory time being pushed around the garden by my father with no success and one day I took myself outside the house and determinedly rolled down the hill and around the corner over and over again until I worked out how to balance….and then I was away pedalling furiously.



The old dock areas

Much of the original docks have been transformed into areas with bars and restaurants and a whole area had given itself over to fish and seafood, and especially crab.

On my first visit to Singapore Belinda and I ate at one of these restaurants.  A big bowl of crab in a black pepper sauce was presented to us, together with a set of tools – nutcrackers, or should that be claw crackers and a hammer as well as an enormous bib.  We needed to wear the bib as by the end of the meal I was covered in crab goo.

Raffles and the Singapore Sling

I had always promised myself that I would have my first Singapore Sling cocktail in the bar where it was invented and so one evening we went along to the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel.  The main ingredients of gin, cointreau and pineapple juice all went down the hatch very well and at an exorbitant price but it had to be done and I have to say, that I did enjoy it.  The experience was made more special due to the surroundings – although the bar has been renovated it has been updated in keeping with its original style with teak floors and ceiling fans although I guess that the atmosphere would have been far more genteel than modern times with chattering tourists filling it up.

Skybars

For the very best sky bar you should head to the top of the Marina Bay Sands.  It is worth it here for the view alone.  Drink prices and service leave a lot to be desired but you can visit and leave again after taking a few photos without parting from any money from your wallet.

Summary of Singapore

There is no denying it, Singapore is not a cheap city but you can adapt it to your budget.  Alcohol is very pricy everywhere and food, even in the supermarkets generally costs a lot more than you would expect to pay in Europe. However, the hawker centres, food markets and smaller backstreet cafes and restaurants (such as the Komala Vilas) offer extremely reasonably priced and tasty food.

Transport links around the city are as good and efficient as you might expect and the bus drivers that I came across were all super-friendly.

I know that I am extremely lucky to have a wonderful friend Belinda who lives in the city and who invited me to stay with her, but there are many reasonably priced hostels and lots of AirBnB hosts that offer rooms or entire apartments (contact me if you would like a first time discount off an AirBnB stay)

Entrance to many of the main museums and attractions are not overpriced and you can get plenty of enjoyment from simply wandering around the (free) grounds at the Gardens by the Bay without paying the entrance fee for the domes or the skywalk.

Raffles once lived here in Singapore

Raffles once lived here in Singapore

Yes, Singapore is highly regulated, extremely clean and has none of the organised chaos of the rest of South East Asia but it is certainly worth a visit for at least a couple of days.

I didn’t get around to the interior, Sentai Island, the Botanical Gardens or the zoo so I shall simply have to return another time.

Getting great cheap flight deals and booking with Skyscanner

I LOVE the Skyscanner site.

It searches and compares flights between any destination that you want to travel and even those that you don’t yet know that you want to travel between.  Clicking on the link and booking via their site is nearly always the same as going to the airline direct and in many cases I have saved myself quite a bit of money.

The best thing is that you can enter vague search queries and the site will deliver almost every single variable possible: for example,

  1. a) Search from Hanoi to Bangkok any time during March
  2. b) Search from any airport in Vietnam to any airport in Thailand on a specific date or
  3. c) Search direct flights/cheapest options….or any variation of the above.

Back at the beginning of the year I wanted a week away in Europe.  I didn’t care where, but I knew that I had to fly from Barcelona.  So I searched flights from Barcelona to Anywhere during the whole of March and Porto came up top.  I had a return flight with very good departure times for £30. Bargain.

And as a bonus for me, if you book using any of the links to Skyscanner in this article or anywhere else on my website I will earn a teeny weeny bit of commission at no extra cost to you.  Bookmark this page/link and use the site (via Scarlet Jones Travels) for your next adventures.


Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Which is the best?

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Which is the best?

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai: the ancient Siamese cities:  which one is the best?

This article was originally published in January 2016 has been updated with new information.  It also contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links

Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

If you don’t have time to visit both of the ancient Siamese cities of Sukhothai or Ayutthaya this article may help you to decide which one is the best or you could get a copy of the Lonely Planet Guidebook for Thailand (click here for the latest version).  Both Ayutthaya and Sukhothai lie to the north of Bangkok, each was once the capital city and both are brimming with ruins.

Sukhothai is older than Ayutthaya and was once the original capital city of Siam (the original name of Thailand).  The city was abandoned and the population were forcibly relocated south to Ayutthaya in 1583 after a battle, a Burmese invasion and an earthquake.  I visited them in reverse order as I made my way north up through Thailand.

 

Ayutthaya – A UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site

 

The city of Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand for 417 years (after Sukhothai) and before the political power was transferred to Bangkok and it sprawls out, scattered with ancient ruins and temples.  The modern buildings in the town have been built right up to the edges of the rusty red bricks and the collapsed spires of the ancient city and an enormous central area is given over to grassy parkland that is peppered with relics.

Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 when the Thais were forced south from their previous capital in Sukhothai and it lasted as the capital until 1767 when the Burmese invaded and destroyed much of it. In the 17th century it ranked in the Top 16 cities in the world (how have I never heard of it before now?) and it was renowned as a centre of commercial prosperity, international trade and harmony; however what I find astounding is that 1 million people lived there at the height of its power.

It is now quite rightly listed as a UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site and, I repeat, how on earth had I never heard of it before? The old part of the city is bordered by 3 rivers which almost form an island and the monuments and the ruins lie a deceptively large distance apart.  It’s a good idea to hire a bicycle or to tackle the sights over several days in a series of bite-sized chunks, but there’s plenty to see and to do here apart from the old temples.

Click here to compare the current grandeur of Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand to the ancient cities.

 

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai?

What did I see and do in Ayutthaya?

I hired a bike from my Ayutthaya hostel and my first port of call was to the very well laid out Ayutthaya Tourism Centre.  Here I collected a decent map and where I read the informative display boards that explained about the history, the geography, the art and the culture of the city.  I learnt about how and why Ayutthaya deserves its place as a UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site and I also got information on some traditional homestays although sadly I didn’t have enough time to stay in any of them.

Wat Ratchaburana

This was one of the largest complexes inside the park and I felt like Indiana Jones as I climbed up into one of the towers – and then clambered down inside narrow stone steps to the bottom.  I held my breath as it fleetingly crossed my mind that if someone chose to close the hatch at the top I could be there forever until I had turned into nothing but dust – but seeing the ancient murals on a tiny patch of ceiling was worth the slight trauma, as was the special feeling of having the whole place to myself.

Wat Mahathat

Among the ruins of this particular temple is the much photographed head that was caught up in the roots of tree a long time ago and is now bound there forever.  I actually hunted around for ages until I gave in and I asked somebody who laughed and said ‘just find the crowd’.  And I turned a corner and there was a huddle of people all jostling for the best picture of it.  As a mark of respect you should try to avoid standing over a Buddha image so everybody was squatting to get their photos taken with the stone head.

Buddha head in Ayutthaya

Elephant rides

There is a well trampled route – sadly along the side of the main highway – where weary looking elephants ferry tourists along in the dusty heat.  I have to confess to once riding an elephant in India, although I would never do that now that I am aware of the damage that it can do to these huge animals. The training methods are usually based on cruelty and fear – but not withstanding that, it seems so wrong to walk animals along hard pavements with lorries and cars just inches from them and the pollution pumping out, not to mention the sharp hooks that get stuck into their heads by some of the mahoots.

You really shouldn’t buy into this depressing part of the tourist trade; but for now, until more tourists boycott them the elephants are a part of the Ayutthaya tourist scene.

Riding elephants in Ayutthaya

 River Trip

Talking to Annika and Robin from the UK who were staying at my Ayutthaya hostel I learned about the river trip and this was something that I was really pleased to do.  Early one evening a small group of us were ferried around the rivers and canal systems that circle the old city of Ayutthaya for a couple of hours.  This trip included short stops at three very impressive sights.

We visited

  • Wat Phananchoeng with the most massive golden Buddha ever
  • Wat Phuttaisawan with its weird cockerel statues and
  • Wat Chai Watthanaram where we wandered among the ruins as the setting sun showed off dark silhouettes of half broken spires and domes against the night sky
sunset view from the river at Ayutthaya

The Chao Sam Phraya National Museum

This museum had some interesting pieces in it with more Buddha images than you could shake a stick at – but the best bits were the gold and jewelled treasures in the special rooms upstairs.  There was an impressively huge bronze Buddha head and many intricate wooden carvings as well as loads of other stuff, although disappointingly there wasn’t much information in any language other than Thai.

The Toy Museum

Now this museum was just bizarre.  It had a huge collection of toys BUT some would be hard pressed to be called toys. They were grouped together in dusty clusters with, as far as I could see, no thought given to themes or historic relevance. There were cabinets full of plastic pieces such as you might get with a fast food burger meal, and just not one example of each, but hundreds.  There was a definite robot theme going on and some very battered dolls, as well as knives (toys?) pictures and, well, just strange stuff.  It was odd but for entertainment and giggle value alone it was well worth the admission price. You can still get something like these classic robots on Amazon – click here for some examples if you want to bring back some distant childhood memories!

robots in the toy museum at Ayutthaya

The Japanese Village

Ayutthaya was a thriving port and back in the days when it was the capital city the people of Ayutthaya welcomed traders of all nationalities – although they were not permitted to settle inside the old town walls.  Several villages were established outside the city perimeter – among them the Japanese, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch and the French.  I visited the Japanese Village which had a small information centre and a riverside garden but to be honest, not much else, although I was told that the garden is still trying to recover following devastating floods a couple of years ago.

Orientation:

Ayutthaya lies to the north of Bangkok and it was once one of the world’s most prosperous cities.  It ranked in the Top 16 Cities of the World in the 17th century when it contained 3 palaces and many other royal buildings and important temples.

I travelled the five hours to Ayutthaya by bus from the western city of Kanchanaburi (read that article here): home to the famous bridge (over the River Kwai), the Erewan waterfalls and Hellfire Pass. Ayutthaya was the only city in Thailand where I was warned not to go out alone after dark – not because of robbers but because of the packs of feral dogs.  Lying comatose during the heat of the day, these sleepy looking mongrels wake up and prowl the streets at night.  Like something out of a futuristic movie they follow you, circle around you and generally freak you out.  They have been known to attack people when the streets are deserted, and later lying in bed you hear the packs howl and call to each other like wolves. These dogs are no reason not to go to Ayutthaya though – all in all, it is a great city full of history and it gives you more than a glimpse into a past life.

Sukhothai

I took the five hour bus from Ayutthaya to Sukhothai  and I spent a couple of nights here so that I could visit the city and compare it to Ayutthaya. I stayed on the outskirts of the modern town in a tiny cell-like room in a little guesthouse which had nothing much going for it apart from having a real wood fired Italian pizza oven in the garden, where the Russian owner made excellent pizzas and his Thai wife made superb pasta dishes and coconut ice cream.

Sukhothai is older than Ayutthaya and unlike Ayutthaya which has the old and the modern side by side, in Sukhothai the older ruins stand totally separate and are a 20 minute songthaew ride (open sided truck with bench seats in the back) along the highway. It was perfectly safe to do this trio by myself and once at the gates to the heritage area I picked up my map, hired a bicycle and I paid my entrance fee into the main site.

Sukhothai vs Ayutthaya - how can you choose?

There are 5 mains sites in the historical park – the central site, and areas ringing it to the north, south, east and the west where each commands its own entrance fee.  The major ruins are clustered in the centre and were once palaces, temples, and administration centres when Sukhothai was at the hub of the country. The ruins bear a similarity but are different to those in the southern capital at Ayutthaya; these are from an older era, but it is the location which sets them apart. Huge grassy fields are dotted with copses of trees around lakes and streams.

You can see any number of stone elephants, gigantic Buddhas and chedis and stupas. The pace is unhurried as people cycle around the paths and wander among the ruins, scooters buzz around and the minivans ferry coach loads of day trippers, but there is space for everyone and as the temperature climbed and the insects zizzed and fizzed, more and more people chose to flop under one of the shady trees and rest awhile.

elephants at Sukhothai?

I visited three of the five sites at Sukhothai – the central, the north and the west and by then I was done – I was all ruined out.  I collapsed under a parasol drinking an icy cold drink and watching an artist paint a Buddha onto canvas.  I bought one of her pictures as a memento of the region and the ruins before wearily heading back to my hostel.  It was extremely hot and dusty in Sukhothai and while there is plenty to keep you busy for a whole day or even longer in the historic area, I was done.

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Both are amazing

Cycling Sukhotha

On my second day in Sukhothai I joined a bicycle tour of the surrounding countryside, where the air was slightly fresher and I learnt about rural life in central Thailand. Our tour, operated by Cycling Sukhothai link here which promotes eco-tourism was led by Mem who led took 8 of us first to a local market and then to:

  • A mushroom farm
  • A (rice) whisky farm
  • A cock breeding/fighting home
  • A fish smoking factory
  • An ice cream maker
  • A frog farm
  • A furniture factory
  • A basket weaver
cycling around Sukhothai

We cycled from one rural enterprise to the next along dusty lanes and by canals and paddy fields where people were planting out the bright emerald green shoots.  They were ankle deep in water and wore conical straw hats and indigo shirts and oxen and buffalo pulled their ploughs.  We tasted the ice cream and the whisky and we watched a proud owner bathing and massaging his champion fighting cockerel.

We passed mums swinging their babies in cribs made from reeds that hung from the roofs of their porches and when I got into my tuktuk to go back to my hostel, the driver suddenly jumped off and ran into the bushes and then came back with a big honeycomb with some very angry bees buzzing around it.  I nervously shared the tuktuk with his oozing gold treasure complete with the still angry insects before collecting my rucksack from my hostel and hot-footing it to the bus station for Chiang Mai and the north.

 

Sukhothai bicycle tour

Ayutthaya vs Sukhothai

If you have time, I would certainly recommned that you factor in both cities on your trips especially if you are interested in history; although after a while you may suffer a little bit from ruin overload.

  • Ayutthaya has a much livelier feeling and there is a lot more to see and to do apart from visiting the historical parks but wandering around the ancient Sukhothai city gives you a chance to recharge your batteries.
  • Bus Ayutthaya to Sukhothai and enjoy the scenic countryside on the five hour journey
  • The climate is similar in both cities and both have more than their fair share of temples and glittery gold.
  • Ayutthaya has backpackers hostels and accommodation in dormitories (which I personally prefer) but when I visited Sukhothai only had guest houses (more expensive for the solo traveller and less opportunity to meet people)

Click below for the up to date prices and choices for the Ayutthaya hostels:

And finally – don’t forget to take out travel insurance.  I use Alpha Travel Insurance which works for me.  Check out their latest prices here

visiting the Buddha's head in Ayutthaya
Enjoying Ayutthaya with new friends
The Catalan referendum: an opinion piece by Scarlet Jones

The Catalan referendum: an opinion piece by Scarlet Jones

These are my personal views on events during the recent Catalan referendum – written whilst waiting to check in for my flight at Barcelona airport.  Travel isn’t all sandy beaches and cocktails.  It can be gritty realism and immersion in the lives of real people.  I always do my best to understand the history and to understand about the different cultures and customs of the places that I visit and this summer has been no different as I researched and investigated the history of the Spanish Civil War.  As a result, the recent events that I found myself in the middle of, held even more emotion for me.

(This post may contain affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links.  Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com)

I cried when I left friends behind in Colombia and I bawled my eyes out as my plane took off from Rio after travelling for a year in South America.  On a travel day, I usually sit quietly at bus stations or at airports reflecting on why I feel driven to leave the people that I care for and whom I know that I will deeply miss.

As a travel writer and a blogger I’m very excited to be travelling again, but moving on from a place where I have begun to put down some roots will always be tinged with sadness.

This time the leaving is different.  I feel as if I’m abandoning my friends. I’m leaving behind a country that’s very uncertain of her future.  I have been here in Spain for more than twelve months (with many side trips around Europe) learning about Spanish history and I’m proud to say that I am becoming quite proficient in one of her languages.  I’ve travelled through some difficult regions in the world but this is the first time when I have been a part of a disturbing situation unfurling live and as it happens.

Hopefully things will settle down and quickly, common sense and dialogue will prevail and no side will lose face.  But we must all be aware of how seemingly overnight a small disagreement can erupt into a full blown argument followed by hatred and divisions, and even as I write this, the news reports are changing minute by minute.

Without any Latin blood in my veins I can only try to imagine how deep the feelings of mistrust, past wrongs and a sense of national pride can run.  It seems whilst all around the world many people want the benefits of a globalised planet, many individuals are turning back to their ancestral roots, embracing languages, customs and cultures and wanting to highlight their self-identity within smaller communities.

My grandmother was punished

My grandmother was banned from speaking Welsh in her school and she was beaten when she was overheard speaking anything other than English.  Catalans, under Franco suffered an even worst fate if they were heard speaking their language in public.  I understand the need to claim an identity – I am Welsh, British and European but never English – despite having long forgotten the Welsh language that I learnt in school and that my grandmother spoke to me.  I also know that to force a people to abandon their own culture and to adopt another is done in an attempt to subdue and to degrade them.  It usually only harbours resentment and it can become a ticking time bomb.

The Welsh flag

the awesome Welsh flag

Over the years there have been calls for Welsh independence but for now those voices are in the minority.  Wales is not a wealthy region of the United Kingdom and it receives a lot of European money (I still cannot for the life of me understand why, apart from in Cardiff, the majority voted for Brexit), and the region is better as part of the larger unit.  The people from Cardiff which is the capital city of Wales are among the friendliest and most accepting of other cultures that I have met all around the world.

I understand some of the Catalan people’s call for independence from Spain and I understand the reluctance of the Spanish government to let them vote for change.  But I will never understand how, in a democracy, a government can instruct its police force or army to turn on peaceful protesters with violence.  I was there on Sunday 1st October.  I witnessed first hand the feelings of horror, shame and disbelief that shook the region.

The (illegal) Catalan referendum.

On 1st October many of the Catalan people wanted the right to cast their vote for independence.  This election may have been illegal in the eyes of the law but the people were putting a cross on a piece of paper.  They were not marching in the streets or planting bombs.  They were not screaming offensive racial obscenities, burning down banks or looting shopping malls.  They were simply entering schools and village halls to put a cross on a piece of paper.

Under Spanish constitution the vote and therefore the result of it was illegal.  In the run up to the election, because it was illegal, no proper debates took place. Many people may not have had access to all of the facts BUT at the end of the day, they were queuing up to put a cross on a piece of paper.

And the Spanish government sent in the ‘storm troopers’. Dressed in black they first threatened and then they began beating people indiscriminately.  The elderly and women did not escape.  If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time you could be beaten with truncheons or shot at with rubber bullets. It might be a slower way to break up a crowd but hey, two strong soldiers could physically lift a woman out of a building without resorting to kicking her or pulling her down a flight of stairs by her hair.

History must not be repeated

I have friends on both sides of the ‘border’. I have friends in Madrid and friends in the Basque Country.  I have Catalan friends and Spanish friends who live in Catalunya.  People are worried and they have a deep mistrust of the mainstream media which many believe are manipulated by the government.  They are starting to remember the past.  Modern day propaganda in the run up to Sunday showed images of tanks on the streets in Tarragona.  People became angry until they realised that the photographs had been digitally altered.  Whilst facts are circulated immediately, false images are just as quickly made and fake news is pumped out. It is hard to guage the level of public feeling unless you get down at street level and speak to the people.

Catalan referendum and the flag of Catalunya

Catalan referendum and the flag of Catalunya

On 1st October I was chatting to an eighty eight year old lady from the Catalan village where I have been living.  She had struggled along the road on her walking sticks to go and cast her vote.  I don’t know which side she voted for but she told me how worried she was for her son and grandchildren who were sitting outside the fire station which was hosting the ballot and who were all nervously wondering whether the riot police would descend on them and when.

My friend described to me how she was sadly re-living the day when as a nine year old she, her mother and other female members of her family walked to Barcelona – a distance of more than two hundred kilometres. Her father had gone to fight in the Spanish Civil War and she was just one of a steady stream of refugees fleeing the battle zone.  She was afraid that things were once again beginning to unravel.

Voting day in the Catalan referendum

On 1st October, myself and my friends felt drawn to the village centre to stand with good friends – both Spanish and Catalan – watching and waiting for the possible arrival of the troops. And standing with people who were not violent or aggressive but who simply wanted the right to express an opinion.  Others, higher up on the political spectrum may have had a bigger agenda but in a village of less than eight hundred inhabitants almost half turned out to mark their piece of paper one way or another.

Whilst both sides were spreading their propaganda on the day, most people were getting their news as it happened via social media.  As the ‘storm troopers’ got ever closer to our village and the network of informers telephoned and advised us that the Guardia Civil weren’t too far away it was decided to close the ballot box and hide it.

Like a scene from a film people crossed the road and took their places outside a bar opposite the fire station.  Drinks were ordered, the bar staff brought out plates of crisps and children played under the trees.  Everything looked normal but there was an undercurrent and a nervous tension.  The children ran around blissfully unaware but the adults nervously eyed the street from where the Civil Guard could come.  The music from the bar was turned up changing from pop music to Catalan songs and the Catalan news channel transmitted scenes of the violence in other towns and cities on the television screen.

It was not thrilling or exciting to be in the middle of this scene.  It made me sick to my stomach that this was happening. My friends and I were not there to be voyeuristic but to watch and to bear witness to whatever might happen.  Thankfully our small village avoided the wrath of the soldiers.  But half of the villagers didn’t turn out to cast their vote. Whether they were afraid to vote, had no interest in the vote or were ‘no’ voters who boycotted it because it was illegal we shall never know.  But because of that, the vote cannot count nor should it be claimed to be representative of the majority.

Coming together in solidarity

On Tuesday, two days after Sunday 1st October most of Catalunya ground to a halt.  As I understand it, this was not a general strike or action against Madrid, but a day of reflection, a day of solidarity, a day to come together in protest and to acknowledge the heavy-handed violence that had been a feature of the previous Sunday and to try to show the rest of the world that the Catalans wanted to bring about change without aggression.

People swarmed onto the streets; many carrying red carnations (this flower was also the symbol of the Portuguese freedom movement) and waving the Catalan flag.  People stood, shoulder to shoulder with hands in the air and the bars that had opened attracted people who simply wanted to come together.  Many of the national chains of supermarkets and shops were deserted as people boycotted them in a stance of togetherness.

And now three days on we are playing an uneasy waiting game. Whilst the European Union may not be able to order Spain to allow its regions to vote on the independence issue it could (and should, in my opinion) speak out against a nation that unleashes its Civil Guard on innocent and unarmed people in such a vicious way.

I’m struggling to make sense of this situation and Paul Mason does this much better than me in this article for The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/02/catalans-independence-revolt-spain-independence-flags

I can’t cover the entire political history in this short article.  I can’t comment on whether the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ camps have the answer; but I feel strongly that I should speak out and condemn the violence.  There is a saying: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  I remained neutral and I didn’t speak out against situations in my past but I now mentor many survivors of domestic abuse and I tell them to stand tall and to speak out.

I stand up against the violence in Catalunya on 1st October.

My wish as I fly out from Barcelona airport is that the politicians talk constructively and quickly for the sake of this wonderful country and its amazing people.  I am not qualified to voice an opinion on whether there should be an independent Catalunya; after all I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that the majority in my country voted for Brexit, but I am qualified to condemn the violence that was meted out to people who were standing or sitting with their hands in the air and posing no threat to riot police armed with shields and guns.

I hope that common sense and calm prevail.  I hope that neither side are too stubborn to negotiate.  I hope that the Catalan people manage to retain their dignity and their control and do not retaliate and resort to violence.  I hope that when I do return to my friends and the country that I have grown to love, you are all unchanged by these events.

For now, adios Spain, adeu Catalunya and good luck to all of my friends that I leave behind.

Paz a todos, pau per a tothom.

Additional resources

For an excellent insight into the history of Spain, its regions and its people, the author and reporter Giles Tremlett has many of the explanations in his book Ghosts of Spain – Click here to order it from Amazon

In this piece from The Guardian newspaper Giles Tremlett adds his own opinion and further down in the article you can see how far things deteriorated with the Civil Guard beating the Catalan firefighters. https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2017/oct/01/catalan-independence-referendum-spain-catalonia-vote-live

Below are some more of the most haunting images and video clips from the Catalan referendum that had an entire region stunned on Sunday 1st October, together with the Catalan anthem – both the original and the modern rock version (the Catalans LOVE their rock music)

http://metro.co.uk/2017/10/01/firefighters-defend-voters-from-riot-police-in-catalonia-referendum-6968962/

And in this next link – attacking peaceful protestors – sickening!

https://www.facebook.com/victor.font/videos/10155123348683667/

 

 

5 reasons NOT to visit Finland in winter

5 reasons NOT to visit Finland in winter

Should you visit Finland in winter?  

Won’t it will be cold and dark and expensive!

Finland in winter: Tampere in the snow

I began to wonder why I had decided to visit Finland in winter as my plane landed at Tampere and all that I could see through the swirling snowflakes was a flat, grey and white landscape. I negotiated the stairs of the plane with warnings to hold on tightly to the handrail due to the thick coating of  ice on the steps and I walked out into the biting cold.

I spent six days in and around Tampere I am very happy to be able to contradict all of the warnings that I was given before I set off

It’s always cold in Finland!

 

Of course it’s cold in Finland in winter, but people dress accordingly and buildings are well insulated and toasty-warm inside.  Go out for an evening in any city in Britain in the winter and you will always see people dashing between bars and clubs dressed in short sleeved tee-shirts, girls teetering around on spikey heels and nobody wears a jacket or a coat.  In Finand there’s a no-nonsense approach to the cold.  Layers, layers, hats, scarves and gloves and more layers are not only the sensible choice but the only choice if you want to avoid hypothermia or frostbite.

Shops and buildings are well heated and often have a double-door porch entry system and they have polar strength double or triple glazing.  Duvets are super-light but super-warm and showers are piping hot.

But the cold here is different to the cold in the UK and many other parts of the world.  It’s not loaded with damp which creeps into your bones and your chest.  It’s sharp and crisp and freezing but invigorating and it makes your senses come alive.  The snow prettys everything up like a layer of fresh white paint and it also dampens noise.  My hostel thoughtfully had a large box of coats and wraps just inside the front door so if you ever needed to dash outside for anything you could throw on an extra layer.

So don’t let the cold put you off.  Wear sensible boots or shoes, take plenty of layers and get outside.  Walk in the forests among the pines where the snowflakes float gently down and birds are eating the jewel-red berries.  Catch glimpses of the frozen lake between the trees, and then find a steamy, warm cafe and cup your hands around a hot mug of coffee and treat yourself to a tasty cake.

 

It’s always dark in Finland!

 

Of course, the further north that you go in the winter the hours of darkness are longer, but in Tampere in January we had daylight for at least six hours a day.  Yes, often the daylight was a soft dove-grey as the falling snow curled over everything and it felt like peering through fogged up glasses but snow also reflects, so once it was dark, everything had a cool glow aobut it.

Street lights illuminate the paths and the shadows retreat deeper down alleys due to the whiteness of snow layering everything.  Buildings are brightly lit and peeping through the windows you can see rooms cosy and clad with pine and warm with crackling  log fires or they are funky and bright in a Scandanavian Ikea type of a way.

After settling in at my hostel I checked out the map and needing to go out and find something to eat, as is my usual practice I asked at reception if there were any places that I should avoid walking on my own after dark.  With a raised eyebrow the receptionist replied ‘It is often dark in Finland’.  As self-preservation is high on my list while travelling solo I then asked if there were any districts or areas of the city which I should be wary of wandering into.  With a complete look of incomprehension the reply was ‘Of course not!  This is Finland!’ 

 

The Finnish language makes no sense to anybody: unless they are Finnish!

Yep!  I can’t argue with this one BUT despite always apologising for their bad English, the majority of Finns that I met spoke impecable English.  And Swedish.  And sometimes Russian or another language or three.  In my six days there I managed to learn two words – kiitos which is thank you and hei which is hello. And I have subsequently learnt that the Finns do not use all of the letters which are available to them in their alphabet.

If a sound is duplicated then they have dropped one of the letters and adopt the other – for example, in English the letter C sometimes makes the same sound as an S and sometimes makes the same sound as a K – the Finns don’t faff about with complications – they have all but dropped the C from their language. So at least if you are learning Finnish the alphabet is shorter.

 

Everything is expensive in Finland!

 

Costs are comparable to those in the UK – with winners and losers across the board.  Granted I stayed in a hostel BUT the prices and the quality of accomodation were excellent. Check the lastest hostel prices at this link. There was also a hotel element to the hostel that I stayed in (The Dream Hostel) so you didn’t have to do the whole dorm experience and I managed to get a return flight to Tampere for £49 with a budget airline!!!!  That’s an insane price and there was also a realistically priced bus transfer from the airport to the city too.

Coffees, beers and food are similar prices to the UK (as I only had carry-on baggage I didn’t even glance at clothing or gifts) but I was pleasantly surprised as I had expected much much worse.

So get yourself a cheap flight to Finland and for budget priced but NOT budget style accommodation book in at the Dream Hostel, Tampere (a more detailed post on my time here will follow another time), grab yourself some Euros and go visit.

You can read more about staying in a hostel at this link to another of my articles here: Hostel tips and how not to behave in a hostel

If you still don’t fancy staying in a hostel (but please do check out the Dream Hostel first) then you can get the up to date prices for hotels at this link to Agoda

The Finns are a cold, silent people!

 

True – you will walk around the streets and people will not be smiley and enthusiastically greeting you, but whenever I stopped and looked a bit lost or I struggled over my map, somebody would usually check and ask if I needed any help.

I visited a church which was disappointingly closed, but Sari, the lady who was sweeping the snow off the path outside it, offered to open it up for me and show me around.

I visited a museum and I was helpfully told that if I were to return after 3pm there would be free entry because it was Friday and later at the museum I learnt about the history of Finland and I also learnt that, while you cannot stereotype a nation, the Finns are a people of few words and are generally shy.  This was written up on the walls under some of the exhibits and while it may be true, the people that I spoke to were warm, friendly, interesting and helpful.

I mostly navigated my way around the city of Tampere with the help of  a free, self-guided walking tour on a map which I obtained from the tourist information office but once inside cafes and coffee shops  and once everyone had shed some of their layers of clothing, I invariably got a smile and warmth from people.

So, if you have a few days free and you can find yourself a convenient flight, do visit Tampere in Finland in winter.

 

Other ideas for Finland

 

I really want to return in the summer and see the stunning landscape without its cloak of snow and ice.  Finland in winter was spectacular with a monochrome beauty but it must be drop-dead gorgeous with its many lakes and islands, andwith trees and flowers and colour in the summer.

If you don’t want the challenge of travelling solo, Explore do some fabulous sounding tours to Finland too.  You can even go on a brown bear watching weekend!… Check out their latest tours here

And for the latest in flight offers I always use Skyscanner.  Try searching with their monthly option for the best deals:


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Finland in winter: a winter wonderland
Finland in winter. Frozen lakes and fjords

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