I took a midnight bus from Seville to Lisbon, Loretta and Marco saw me off like I was family. It was mid January 2008 by then. I slept for most of the seven hour journey, arriving in the Portuguese capital an hour after dawn. I was back on British Mean Time. I took a taxi to the Oasis Backpackers, unsure of its destination. Once at the hostel, I crashed for a while, it being early and no staff or bed available. Around breakfast time, a lovely Lithuanian girl woke me and showed me around the small hostel. It was a strange building with three floors and a patio and an outside bar. The reception was on ground level with another half upper level to the patio. The dorms were on the last two floors. There was a tiny lift and stairs. I preferred the latter!

I settled in and got my barrings. I stayed three days, spending one day exploring the city alone and another day with friends I made in the hostel. Dinner was offerd each night for 5 Euros and the quizine was fantastic. I met most people at the outside bar or in the garden by the small fountin. The assortment of round table and chairs next to the bar created a pleasant ambiance. Little happened until around 9.00 PM each night. After that, it got busy. Around midnight a group would hit the town for more action. On my first night I just sat in the garden and met people, sipping lemonaids. This was where I met Lenard and Later Lurdes. Lenard was from California, over for three weeks travelling around Portuegaul. Whereas Lurdes was a lovely Australian girl who had spent much of her life between Australia and Portugaul. She was in art Design and worked one day a week at the hostel. I found her funny and enchanting.

My first full day in the capital city was spent trying unsuccessfully to navigate the small historical city, which is built on seven hills, like Rome. Naturally, I got lost, but I had fun. My first aim was to try and find the river if possible. I walk through the city turning left and right, following the directions I had been given. I attempted to find a square and then follow a hill downwards. I did find the main bus and railway stations. I eventually found a highway which took me out of the city. I followed this for a good hour but with the heat increasing and my journey becoming ever more disinteresting, I turn back and tried to find the city centre.

I climbed several of the hills, entering small back streets quiet and narrow, old and quaint. I heard the local accent, not understanding a word. I passed the occasional cafe or bar – still open as early evening fell. Most places were closing or closed. I managed to get a bread roll and coke in one cafe then continued my exploits. One hill got very steep and I enjoyed myself wandering around in Lisbon’s alley ways. the light eventually began to fade, I haled a taxi and returned to the hostel.

That evening I joined a group of hostellers for a night on the town. A large American girl from Arizona took me on a tour of the back streets and night life. We found some marijuana in one bar and music in another. Then a group of about twenty of us stood in the street with the locals, drinking and smoking, laughing and in some cases singing! I met two young Portuguese lads who began singing yellow Submarine with me, it was most absurd and fun! We ended up in a small night club around 1.00 AM, it was almost empty and the music could only be described as horrendous – at least to my cultured ears! Most of the group left around 2.30 AM and walked back to the hostel, I guiding a Brazilian guy named Giovani who was very drunk. What a conclusion to a fascinating night.

The next afternoon, I met up with Lurdes, Lenard and Giovani for a tour around Lisbon. We walked into the centre, which I had failed to find the day before and I had my picture taken by the large fountin in Rossio Plaza – the sound of the water was delightful. We then wandered on towards the castle, passing the large cathedral along the way. The castle was in the old quarter and was mainly in ruins, the city had been hit by a large earth quake in the mid sixteenth century, thus giving the city its character, plus its hills. We climbed up to the castle, passing several historical districts along the way. I got to touch the old crumbling walls and we walked around the grounds, avoiding the castle itself as it was expensive to enter. On the return journey, we stopped at a picturesque lookout in Alfama district, an old historical area near the castle. We descended the hill by way of several old streets, there were many small, narrow steps which were in poor condition. The houses were close together and backed onto each other. Life would have been hard. We passed a water well at one point that had a statue of a lion’s head, which I thought was cool after touching it. The narrowe streets got vary dark especially where they were covered by intricate archways. We finished with tea in a local cafe that had once been host to a prominent poet of the day in the previous century. The cafe was busy, the food was excellent.

I next travelled down the coast to Lagos at the end of the country. I arrived in mid afternoon after a three hour bus journey. I took a taxi not knowing the Rising Cock hostel’s location. I was greeted by a large man who I took to be American and the owner. He made me welcome and showed me round the hostel, which resembled a building site! It was winter and the tourist season was quiet, a good time to undertake repairments and renovations. The large guys name was Selmo, he introduce me to a young American named Will from the East coast. I joined them on the veranda, the day was cool with scattered sunshine. I told them about my adventures and settled in. will offered to show me the lie of the land, having only just started working there. He was on an internship as part of his University degree. A likeable young guy in his early twenties. Selmo own the hostel and ran it with his Portuguese parents. They were most charming. We just called them Mumma and Poppa. Breakfast which was included, consisted of lemon tea, which I am informed cures any hang over and creps – as many as you want. It was a fantastic place with a beautiful, relaxed ambiance. I bet it is crazy in summer, what with the scenic coast attracting backpackers and tourists! The Rising Cock Hostel costs 25 Euros for a dorm bed in the summer, but I was only charged 10 Euros because of the renovations and the lack of heat. I was not complaining!I spent two night which turned into four because of the people I met. Will and I went for a long coastal walk on my first morning, climbing up on top of the cliffs and getting out into the sun and wind. We walked along several rough trails going through thick grass and shrubs at one point. I could hear the wind and the sea and it was delicious and tranquil. We walked along some of the beach on the return route. I even got to touch a statue of São Gonçalo de Lagos, the town’s founder. I spent a day relaxing in the hostel lounge, listening to videos and/or music on Selmos amazing all-inclusive system. He ran the video, DVD and stereo through the computer, it was a cool system.

Each evening began with hot chicken wings and chips for dinner, followed by a trip to one of the many bars. One such establishment was called the Three Munkys. This was a ripper of a bar that played heavy rock music with a pool table in the back. The hostel members had swelled to quite a phalanx by now, mostly consisting of Aussies. I chatted with them as they drank beer and played pool. We even had a group of delightful young American girls on one evening. They were great fun and I got kissed by two and had my hand stroked by a third!!!

I met Chris from England on my second day and he agreed to take me with a couple of his friends to the small town of Sagres, Portugaul’s most South-Westerly point. Chris and Alistair, a surfing bum from Australia packed their boards in between the seats and along with a young sixteen year old local girl named Ana, we hit the open road for an hour’s drive to the tip. It was a beautiful day, hot sunshine and hardly a breath of wind. We wizzed along with the radio blasting and the windows down, I cracking jokes and swaring frequently. Alistair was a character and I liked him immediately. Chris likewise was a cool guy. Once in Sagres, we went to the light house to see if we could get onto the cliff top to hear the waves crashing against the coast, but sadly it was closed. So we headed to a cafe for lunch then the beach to let the boys serf. I lay on the sand and developed my tan. It was relaxing and very blistful. We eventually returned to Lagos.

On my second night in the Three Munkys, I met one of the barman, a charismatic guy named Jimmy from Belgium. He sounded more like an American and noone could guess his nationality. He tried to get everyone drunk by putting more alcohol in their glasses. I stated I was an alcoholic and just enjoyed myself without beer. He liked that and liked me even more when he saw me head banging to the rock music. Once the bar closed, he invited me for coffee in another bar and then we went back to his place for the night. We ended up crashing around 5.00 AM with a movie on the VCR. I had to share his bed since there was nowhere else to sleep! He was a cool, funny man and a laugh. The next day, we went to the beach together along with two Aussie girl who were also staying at the Rising Cock. The sun was hot so we just lay on the sand relaxing. I found a large rock that had been eroded into a kind of cave by the sea, it was amazing and offerd some shade from the blazing heat. Just to think, it was 28 or 30 degrees celsius and only late January!

After four delicious days in Lagos, enjoying the beaches, bars, people and relaxed atmosphere of the tiny town I decided to return to Spain and continue my journey towards Gibraltar and beyond. Alistair new a Swedish guy who had a car and they offerd me a lift since they were heading the same way. Therefore, we agreed to split the petrol and headed to Cadiz at the bottom of Spain.

Spain 2.

Spain Continued.

I flew back to Seville in early January 2008, to continue my journey around South-West Europe. I wanted to visit Portugal and also enter into Morocco, just across the Strait of Gibraltar. I returned to Seville, because I liked the city’s medieval atmosphere and I wanted to see friends I had made previously. Marco, the crazy Mexican I had shared a dorm with in late December, met me at the airport and we got the bus back into the city.

The weather was hot and the city was busy. Marco and I were both in good spirits. It had been a long time since anyone had met me at any airport, I always did things alone! At the hostel, I made my entrance noisily and was re-acquainted with other friends. Andrea was on reception and the German boss Daniel, also said hello. I was given Room 1, and settled in immediately. Marco and I went up to the kitchen and sat on the balcony, he strumming his guitar and I chatting. Mark from California was also there along with several new backpackers. I stripped down to just my shorts, kicked off my shoes, got a cup of tea from Marco and relaxed.

I saw Loretta after about an hour. She was her infectious self and her hands were as smoove as glass! She said she had spent the day moisturising them for me!! I grinned delightedly, telling her once again she was beautiful. The best complement a girl can get from a blind man!

The hostel was in a state of chaos as usual, Marco and Loretta were working exhaustingly, Marco still unsure which days he was working! I just laughed at the confusion and went in search of food. I saw Will, the bar tender that evening, the bar was open from 2.00 PM until 2.00 AM, each afternoon-night. Will offered to visit the Bull ring museum with me the Plaza de Toros. I concurred and the next morning we met up and went exploring. We walked to the museum and paid for a one hour guided tour. The Plaza de Toros was massive both from the exterior and interior. I paid for Will, since I was given a discount. It cost 5 Euros. We passed through several underground passages then ascended several steps to the outdoor arena. Positioned on marble steps, we listened to a talk in both Spanish and English. The lady’s thick accent made it hard to understand. We were informed that bull fights, which still occurred today, ran from May until October. The bulls were kept elsewhere and brought into the city on fight day. Horses were once used and there were six bulls and four bull fighters including the Matador – the bull killer.

It was sport entertainment for the Spanish public. At one point, it was banned and other sports presented instead. However, the Spanish wanted the masochistic, exciting spectacle of the bull fight.

I got to touch several models of bulls an fighters in various stages of the fight. It was fascinating. Probably not a pretty spectical, but interesting as part of Spanish history and culture. We heard about several Masadors, names unknown to me and who I do not remember. The history was interesting. I got to touch a ring that the bulls were tethered too and saw inside the former stables. The bulls were attacked on horseback at first and later on foot. The bull was stabbed repeatedly before finally being slaughtered. The tail and horns being the Masador’s trophies after a successful kill.

Once the tour was over, Will and I went to the river and admired the famus Alamillo bridge that was lighted at night. We walked across to the island town of Santiago Calatrava and had a quick explore around the old backstreets and buildings, before returning to the Seville side.

Next stop was at the famous cathedral. I again got us in for free and Will described the monstrosity as we searched for the main entrance. Will said there were orange trees everywhere, I could smell their fragrent. We explored the cathedral’s main chamber, briefly stopping at a marble tomb, supposedly containing Christopher Columbus’s bones. I circumferenced it and felt the inscriptions, it was as smoove as silk, as cold as ice. We then found the entrance to the tower, la Giralda and began the climb. There was a series of small concrete ramps which helexed continuously taking one to the tower’s summit. These had been installed so that horses could transport goods to the top of the cathedral, probibly for storage. I trudged up the slopes, holding Will’s arm for guidance. We stopped half way for a breather and I felt the narrowness of the sloping tunnel. Once at the top, after climbing a short flight of stairs, we emerged into bright, warm sunlight. We were high up and could see right across the city. We were basically in a large square enclosed by four walls, topped with railings. I stood on a large concrete step and looked to different parts of the city, Will describing the view from each direction. It was peaceful up there with the hot sun and gentle breeze. We stayed for about an hour before descending to ground level and exiting. Will and I eventually returned to the hostel after an interesting days exploring. Will was fascinated in the way I used my hands and other senses to explore and discover. He noted how I used the sun and wind for direction and listened to all the surrounding sounds. He found it an educational experience.

Later that night, I said fairwell to my friends and left for Portugal.

Walking in the woods!


Canada is a land of magnificent beauty and wonder. Its geographical vastness and diversity makes it a unique, magical land.

I first visited Canada in the summer of 2004. I spent just under three months travelling from east to west and eventually heading north. My journey began and ended in Toronto, it is a city I have returned to on almost every subsequent visit to that fascinating country. Its qualities lie in its people, nature, isolated territories and mix of habitats and terrains.

Toronto itself is fascinating; full of mostly honest, strait-forwad people, fair and open. The clean organised city draws me back each time because it is not only surrounded by water and has on its doorstep a natural thenominon in Niagara Falls, but it also has one of the best hostels I have ever experienced.

Canadiana Backpackers, is a fantastic hostel; unique in its quality, atmosphere and personality. Run by a quiet, watchful Englishman who is fascinated by people, if from a far. Its complement of staff from all corners of the globe makes for an interesting and educational experience. The hostellers come from far and wide, some staying long and others only for a night or two. They all add to the hostel’s atmosphere. A relaxed ambiance where anything goes. There is always something happening even when nothing is going on. I stayed four days on my first visit and another four days at the end of my first trip in Canada. I have been back a further three times. I now consider it one of my many homes. Chris, the owner, and Bill, the old gentleman who rights the hostel’s blogs, always make me feel welcome and look after me accordingly. It is a good feeling to know you have friends and a bed. Likewise the permanent receptionists, Sandra, Kile and Michell run round for me bringing me food, making cups of tea and ensuring I am looked after like a king. Together they are a fantastic tgang and are what make this hostel special.

The building itself has several levels with an outdoor deck that is continuously being extended each time I return. It is a great place to sit, smoke, meet other travellers and enjoy the warm summers and cold winters. It is where games of darts and ping pong are played when the snow is not falling.

The hostel is ever expanding and so is the entertainment. Another guy named Chris, provides pub cralls, bbqs and anything else he can arrange! I have to also mention the various tours to Niagara Fals on offer from the hostel reception, it is easy to see why I keep returning each year.

I enjoy just hanging out in the lounge on the comfy sofers, chatting with Bill, listening to his dry, intelligent whit as he directly points out the true facts of life. We sware at each other affectionately and give shit to anyone who crosses our bows. They in turn find it fun, interesting and fascinating to have a blind traveller in their midst. My intake on life and perspective both on the hostel itself and my fellow backpackers alike is often controversial but always entertaining.

My first exploration of Toronto was comprised of a combination of solo excursions and guided trips. My main reason for visiting the city initially was to experience the falls and gain a sense of Canada’s largest populated city. I undertook a tour to Niagara and it was not a disappointment. I gain my experiences by sound, smell, and through the surrounding energy from an area’s space. The notion of flowing water has a fascinating impact on my senses. For a blind person, the energy it produces is beautiful. I can hear its rumble, feel the spray, gage the energy produced by natural forces.

The full day guided tour that back in 2004 cost $50, was well worth it. Wine and chocolate tasting was included. The right on the boat ‘Maid of the Mist’ was extra. This allowed one to get very close to the falls and occasionally, actually get wet. The falls are a tourist trap and one should take this into account when visiting, it is the only disappointing aspect of the entire attraction. On my most recent visit in March 2008, I ventured to the falls to discover them surrounded by snow and pleasantly avoid of tourists. I took my disposable camera and using the sound of the falling water as a target, took pictures for my website; www.tonythetraveller.com

I walked around the falls snapping away, contentedly listening to the tranquil rush of the cascading water.

Since 2004 I have revisited Canada several times, briefly going to yarmouth, Nova Scocia in July 2006, Toronto, April 2007 and the eastern provinces in March 2008. My first trip was an initial exploration of the country: venturing as far east as Halifax in Nova Scocia and then going west, visiting each province and their major and most interesting cities and towns. This included; Montreal and Quebec City, Quebec, Cambellton, New Bronswick and Toronto, Ottawa and Thunder Bay, Ontario. I spent several days in Winnipeg, Manatoba whilst only spending a day in Regina, capital of Siskatchian before moving onto the rockies and Alberta. My final province was British Columbia with a stop in Vancouver before heading north via several other towns to the Yukon Territory.

This journey of some two and a half months, enabled me to investigate Canada’s many different terrains, people and coltures and nature. It was while travelling across the province of Ontario by Greyhound bus that I discovered that Canada was a colossus of a country. It took over thirty-six hours to get to my destination, and I was still in Ontario!

IDid all manner of things on that trip from riding the St. Laurance river into freezing cold rapids in a jet boat in Montreal, to swimming naked in a small streem of Lake Superior on a hot July day! I rafted the Ottawa river and attempted to find a decently heigh bungee jump, but was unsuccessful. Halifax was interesting for its even more friendly people and relaxed seaman’s atmosphere. It is mainly a drinking and boating town. Quebec City was my least favourite city in the east of the country. This was due to a combination of the fact that few people decided to speak English with me and that the town possessed many cobbled streets with almost vertical hills. Not an easy city to traverse when blind.

As I ventured further west, the country continued to change, first many thousands of miles of flat land then eventuly, high rocky and steep mountains with snow in places. Winnipeg in the mid west is perhaps the most polite town I have ever visited. One conversation ended with “Thank you” “no thank you” repeat, repeat.!!!

I loved the Rocky Mountains, the town and the National park of Jaspa being the highlight. Open spaces, high dangerous rocky peaks, mountainous trails, nature and wild animals plus fresh, thin, clean air – it was blissful. My senses came alive up there. Likewise, Lake Louise held a magical quality, even if the hostel and town was expensive.

B.C. held more of the same and the Yukon was just perfect isolation. I met some natives who I found interesting if somewhat aloof. Unfortunately, I never got a real chance to have a prolonged chat with any so did not learn as much about their culture. What made this trip so special was the fact that anywhere you went in Canada, you were nearly always near or in nature, birds of all sounds and colours, moose, bare, beever, occasionally wolf an of course fish and dere a plenty. The space and the scale of everything only added to the inpressiveness of the country. From water of great lakes to open expanses of the mid west plains with weat and korn growing for thousands of miles. From large flat lands containing only tall trees to huge and impressive mountainous peaks, some with wildlife and vegetation, others barren and jaggid – wild and threatening! There were gigantic ice glissoning glaciers and vast flowing rivers. I found myself in hot weather, yet still standing in snow as I heard people snow board on top of a mountain, and it was mid July!

I had fun, discovered lots about Canada and about myself. I noted that the best object in Canada is the coffee cups, they are huge and like soup bowls with handles! Just what any Englishman wants at the end of a hard day’s journey. An unusual quizine was chips with hot cheese on. The breakfasts are good, and the further east one travels excellent fish and chips and pies are to be found. In Newfoundland, Seal meat is available including something called Flipper pie! I tried bison (Buffalo) meat and also Dere, both were tender and excellent. I cannot say what the beer is like since I no longer drink, but asking for a lemonaid in Canada is hard work. I ask for a pint of lemonaid with nothing in it, it arrives with a straw, ice, and a slice of lemon – its rediculus. One night in a bar after this had occurred for about the third or fourth time I asked the waitress for a pint of lemonaid, no ice, lemon, or straw and also a kiss!!! I got a kiss on my bald head and the drink followed soon after, but it still had a straw – you just can’t win.

The kindness of people I met travelling across Canada was magnificent, it has happened each time I have travelled there. I met fellow backpackers who helped me get food, visited places and museums with me, showed me across streets, helped me get money and even on occasions cooked for me. I was able to share and learn, the whole ethos of travelling.

I have only had one situation of real misfortune in Canada to date, it was on this first trip. I finally made it to White Horse in the Yukon, after a bus journey of about forty hours or so, just bumping up and down on the bus, feeling the changes in gradient, the twists, the mountains and valleys – that is my way of looking out the window. Anyway, I arrived in White Horse with no accommodation available. I had my one man tent and since I would not be staying long, Alaska being my next stop, I figured a night in a field would be fine. I found a field behind the bus station and pitched my small tent near to a rough path in order to relocate it later. I pad locked it and went off exploring. When I returned later that night, I searched with my cane for my tent, but being unable to find it I eventually flagged down a passing car and the driver kindly helped me look for the tent. In vain, he eventually took me to a salvation army shelter for the night and we returned the following day to re-commence the search. However, all belongings were gone; tent, sleeping bag and both backpacks. I made a police report but whether they had been taken by man or bear, they were long gone. I was mad then disappointed then felt stupid. However, it taught me a valuable lesson, possessions mean little compared to one’s health and safety. I could have been in the tent and have been hurt or killed. I got off lightly. Since that incident, I have always travelled with one very small and light backpack. It is the best way to travel.

My later trips were mostly concerned with seeing friends or being close enough to Canada to slip over the contiguous boarder. My most recent trip in March 2008 was to visit the last two provinces of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and complete the challenge of having travelled to all ten provinces. I did eventually manage it, but it took some doing I can tell you.

I have kidney failure and am almost ready to begin dialysis. During that trip, I was very tired and could feel my damaged kidneys protesting with the physical ethert of travel. I got tired easily and it meant I had to rest in between travelling to destinations. I had a few days in Toronto staying at Canadiana as usual then set off on my mition. The fact that the country was still largely covered in snow only hindered my progress and made my task more difficult.

I headed east and spent a night in the small town of Woodstock New Bronswick. There was nothing there apart from a college, some shops, lots of snow and a truck stop. Halifax was next as I needed a base in order to make the journey across the bridge that connected P.E.I. to the mainland. These bus journeys were crazy. The trip from Toronto to Woodstock, New Bronswick took around twenty-six hours as I had to go through the province of Quebec and had four changes. Once in Nova Scocia however, life began to become more relaxed. I had beautiful countryside with rolling hills dipping valleys and windy twisting roads and friendly, relaxed drivers for company. My two nights in Halifax were quiet enough and a couple of backpackers helped me obtain information for my onward journeys. I was constantly checking bus connections, and trying to find hostels that were open and in towns that were on a bus route. Many hostels in the smaller coastal places don’t open until May and only shuttle buses go there. I had a Greyhound pass which also was accepted on Arcadia Bus Lines, which traverse the Maritime provinces. I was mostly relying on luck and weather. There was plenty of snow, rain and wind and this might mean that the bridge to P.E.I. might be closed. Fortunately it was not and I managed to make it to the Island in relatively swift time. Once in Charlottetown, the Province’s capital, I had to locate the only hostel. The port town was tiny but the hostel was unobvious and I had trouble finding it. Eventually I did and had a lovely stay with the young lady who ran her homely hostel. Not the cheapest in the world but certainly friendly. After a couple of days playing in the snow and chatting with the locals in the bars I had to head back towards Halifax then swing around to the top of Nova Scocia to a town called North Sydney in order to catch the ferry to Newfoundland.

This was a crazy journey that entailed a twelve hour bus ride, an eight hour boat crossing and if in luck once on the other side, another twelve hour bus journey to take me to my destination – that of St. Johns, the capital of Newfoundland on the island’s upper east coast. Unfortunately I missed the bus connection after landing in Newfoundland and since there is only one bus a day, I had a long twenty-four hour wait in the ferry terminal for the next day’s bus. Such is life. I would have wandered around the town, checked out the shops and eaten and drunk in the bars, but I was almost completely out of money and the temperature that sunny morning was twenty below, celcius!!!

I did eventually make it to St. Johns after asixty-four hour journey. I stayed in a lovely homely hostel and had a brief tour of the outlying area, visiting both signal hill where the first radio signal was received from across the Atlantic and also Cape Sphear, the most easterly point of the North American continent. The wind there was both strong and cold and there was snow everywhere. I had fun and enjoyed the treturous challenge of prodding through snow with my stick and trying not to skid on black ice.

I also missed another bus on the return journey as my boat was late leaving Newfoundland. However, my destination this time was Toronto. I eventually arrived there after crossing the whole of Newfoundland, most of Nova Scocia, New Bronswick and finally southern Quebec. I arrived back at Canadiana, a little tired after a seventy-nine hour long journey in cluding the lengthy wait in another ferry terminal on the Nova Scocia side. However, I figured I was lucky, a boat some days earlier had been stuck in pack ice for three days!!!

Back at Canadiana, I relaxed with my friends, another mition completed, a target reached, all Canada’s provinces visited, backpacking under my own steam with no sight and half deaf. No wonder the gang at Canadiana think I’m amazing!

Canada, is a fantastic country as hopefully some of these stories demonstrate. I have seen it through the smells of the rivers and lakes, plants and animals. I have heard it through the wind in the trees, the fall of Niagara, and through the tongues of the locals and natives. I have felt its beautiful landscape and wildlife by walking the trails, hiking the mountains, falling down holes, into ditches and streams, by rafting its rivers, and being drenched in other waters. Its scale and size leave even a traveller as experienced as I breathless with its qualities. A country I will always enjoy revisiting.

Canadiana likewise is somewhere I will often return, it is like a second home, its staff, travellers, furnishings and warm atmosphere call me back each time I am in the country and on that side of the continent.

I hope everyone reading this enjoys both Canada and Canadiana as much as I have.

Tony The Tiger.

Spanish story

Spain — Part 1

My first trip to Spain coincided with Christmas and New Year 2007-08. It was mostly a quiet affair. I met up with friends from Cuba in Madrid, where it was cold and rained most of the time, typical weather I’m informed for Madrid in December. I did the usual tourist things, walked the streets, visited the many squares, strolled passed the palace walls and went for a paddle in the lake in the large attractive park. I then headed to Barcelona for Christmas, where I sat on a beach, enjoyed the sun and cool breeze and relaxed. I met few people apart from a crazy Aussie named Chris and his mate Phil, a mad Kiwi. They were young pups travelling around Europe having fun. They helped me use the internet and kept me company. At one point, we had a play fight on the beach, swearing at each other and throwing wet sand.

Christmas night was an interesting affair. I decided to walk into the city from my hostel which was out at the coast, a good forty minute journey. When I arrived in the centre things began to happen, as I got lost trying to find one of the many cathedrals! Most Spaniards don’t know the English word for cathedral and my Spanish is basic and without accent. I found a square, passed through an interesting dark passage, climbed a small hill and crossed several small roads. I finally asked a guy who kindly showed me to the main cathedral of the city. On entering the colossus, I met a lady from Rumania and her Spanish husband. They were charming and showed me around the monastery. Built in the mid thirteenth century, it was huge and contained a vast echo. A service was taking place, preventing us from exploring the entire area, but just walking within the monastery was enough for me to gauge its vastness. Surrounding the outer perimeter of the cathedral were unusual artistic designs. Different rock formations were displayed in wire cages. There was also a pond with delightful geese and a garden that contained a rock formed nativity play. The area was busy with aggressive children, who pushed and ran around, bereft of manners — Spanish kids get away with anything!

My new friends and I eventually left and went for coffee before I began to head for a subway back to my accommodation. It was while I was asking for train directions that this young guy from Thailand asked me to a house party. I figured the night was young, so why not. Therefore, I changed trains for a second time and went with my new companion, aged in his mid twenties, to a friend’s apartment. The small group assembled consisted of a Brazilian guy, a Dominican Republican and our host, an Australian guy. Hot food was offered and I got a nice cup of tea. The music was a little against my taste, but it was interesting and relaxing. Around 3.00 am, we decided to walk into the city and they would drop me at my hostel. A taxi was eventually found and they paid my fare. The cabby misunderstood the address and dropped me in the wrong place. This cost me a two-hour walk, as I first walked in the wrong direction. I eventually found the hostel with the help of a local who was slightly drunk and a bit crazy. He was friendly enough and showed me the way. I eventually arrived back around 5.00 am!

Barcelona was ok, but I was out by the coast and away from the action, getting food was difficult because most places were closed, it being the holiday. There were a couple of grocery stores nearby and a café in the front of the hostel, which was open daily. The hostel itself was basic, with a tiny reception and nowhere to sit or congregate. It lacked atmosphere. However, it did have free internet and a microwave to warm up food. Its main plus point was that it was on the beach, literally!

My one other excursion of note in Barcelona was a trip to Goaldi Park with Phil. The park, a monstrosity of unusual architecture, lay on the furthest side of the scattered city and high on a hill. It lay gigantic and impressive with towering stone pillars, stylish iron decoration and fantastic city views. We walked most of the way only taking the subway when necessary. The park lay at one of the highest points of the city and there were a series of escalators to assist the unfit tourist most of the way. We climbed one or two of the hills that were almost vertical in places. You could walk the entire mountain from bottom to top, but I was unfit and the light was beginning to fade as we arrived. The park was huge. We had time for only a quick inspection, since the light was rapidly receding and it was getting chilly — it was December! I felt some of the stone pillars that felt smooth to the touch and vast in size and scale. It had taken years to design and build, and was beyond most peoples’ imagination of a park. It gave a sense of grandeur and imagination, not at all like your usual park. We eventually headed back to the hostel, returning as darkness enveloped us. It is one of the main attractions in Barcelona and along with its complement of mountains, beaches, and frenetic nightlife, it is an appealing city to visit.

I assessed my plans, explored which hostels had vacancies and eventually chose Seville for my next destination.

Travelling around Spain is pretty easy for a backpacker, there are hostels everywhere and at a reasonable price, though they do vary in standard. The hostel where I stayed in Madrid was also small and had no common room; however, the hostels I visited later were much improved. I travelled by train, though I discovered the bus was often cheaper. Trains are more comfortable, and the ones in Europe are fantastic.

It took twelve hours by train from Barcelona in the region of Catalonia to Seville, the largest city in the south. Seville was fantastic, I took a taxi to the hostel on the first night because nobody spoke any English and I was unsure how to locate it at night. The taxi was a good decision, as I would not have found the hostel by myself. It was off a main street and tucked away in a cobbled alley-square. Most of the street names and squares are unpronounceable and I managed to get lost on many occasions while wandering around that large medieval city. The city was fascinating; with its small, narrow passages, arches, squares, and tiny winding cobbled streets. Beyond the main thoroughfare it was quiet, cool and tranquil. It was around December 28th but it was hotting up in Southern Spain.

The hostel called Oasis Backpackers was fantastic. It was large with two buildings. The main hostel had a bar open from 6.00 pm until 2.00 am every evening. There was a veranda and an upstairs kitchen. People cooked hot food several nights a week and there were free Tapas tours to see the Flamenco shows on offer. I was given a bed in dorm one, notorious for its lack of privacy and bad smell! Lets just say the place had character!

I made friends immediately. I was sharing with a crazy Mexican named Marco, he occasionally cooked and lead one of the tours. He was in Seville to learn Flamenco guitar and to travel. It was his first trip to Europe. He was great fun, gentle and very amenable, he would do anything for me and we had a laugh. He got me food and introduced me to his cuddly friends, Pierre the monkey and his bear who said, ‘I love you’ in Spanish when you squeezed it! I met Loretta the bar girl sometime later. She was cool, a young Aussie in her twenties. I took to her quickly, discovering she had beautiful soft silky hands. I smiled, told her she was lovely and asked to feel her hands. I told people it was how I saw what people looked like! Her hands were perfect; I had an excuse to hold them!

I enjoyed Seville, just walking around the streets trying unsuccessfully to find the cathedral. It is reputed to be the third largest in the world after St. Peters in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. Also Christopher Columbus’s bones are said to be entombed in the cathedral! This is probably untrue, but it sounds good.

The city has many attractions, from the cathedral to the bullring, and the river and its picturesque bridge and museums on Flamenco. The nightlife is cultural and energetic. There are Tapas bars a plenty, where you can find small samples of food usually on small plates and at affordable prices. Finally, and perhaps the main attraction to the city is the Flamenco music and dancing itself — dichotomy of vision and sound. The female dancer is often young, pretty and wears a decorative costume. The heavy pounding of the dancer’s feet gives rhythm to the intricate guitar playing and the simple story-telling singer. It is full of passion and warmth, emotion and love. The songs are often simple tails of love, hardship or poetry. The energy produced from the performance is incredible. I witnessed a show more than once and was moved into swaying hip motion on each occasion — it was enticing and invigorating, I just had to dance.

My time in Seville climaxed with New Years Eve, and what a night that was. We partied all night staying up long after the dawn — there was so much food available, you could have fed half of Africa. Imagine it, pasta, salad, bread with ham or salmon, a strange kind of veggie casserole and more. I had several bowls and even found some cake that went down well. People came and went and it was fun. I mingled with the many different backpackers, chatted up three girls from the US, joked with several guys from Australia and even found an interesting Irish guy to discuss music and travel with. Marco crashed about, coming in and out with yet more food, and Loretta fluttered among the congregation like a pretty bird. I even got the chance to dance with her at one point — thrilling!

Will, the bartender from France, was another guy I became acquainted with and he constantly kept my glass filled with lemonade and/or water, I was never left drifting and was looked after by one and all. Another hostel staff member that I had met earlier that night, Andrea from Austria, gave me a lucky plastic pig and told me to keep it always and it would bring me fortune!

However, my enjoyment of New Years Eve was short lived. As when I checked my bank account the following morning, I discovered I was in the red by several hundred pounds. Amused, I just thought it was a mistake by the automated bank server. However, when I rechecked it was unmistaken, I had been robbed of some serious money. In total about two thousand Euros, about £1200! I was outraged. I contacted my bank to discover what had happened. I had become entangled in a credit card fraud and had to return home to solve the problem and get my money back. I managed to get a flight from Seville directly to England and sort out the problem. It was a blow to the trip, as I was unsure if I would return to Spain and continue my journey to Portugal. My friends kept my spirits positive and Marco even accompanied me to the airport, a journey of a bus ride to the local train station then a twenty-minute bus to the airport. It cost about three Euros each way.

Although I had all my money stolen, it did not mean I thought Spain was a bad country; it is just part of travelling. It could happen to anyone, anywhere.

My first endeavours into the country had been interesting; I had met fantastic people and explored three great cities with Seville being the highlight. It made me determined to return as quickly as possible. Good friends and a delightful city ambiance will do that to even me. Madrid had been ok, seeing it with friends made it pleasurable, but Barcelona apart from the good weather and beach was slightly disappointing. I was away from the action with only a few backpackers in a quiet hostel, it made the stay less fun than it could have been.

I left Spain at the beginning of January with a feeling of ‘see you soon’ rather than ‘goodbye forever’.

Inspirational story

I was sent this story by a friend who is totally deaf and visually impaired. Check this out, its amazing.

Blind student earns medical degree, sees no limits
By Andy Manis, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The young medical student was nervous as he slid the soft, thin tube down into the patient’s windpipe. It was a delicate maneuver — and he knew he had to get it right.

Tim Cordes leaned over the patient as his professor and a team of others closely monitored his every step. Carefully, he positioned the tube, waiting for the special signal that oxygen was flowing.

The anesthesia machine was set to emit musical tones to confirm the tube was in the trachea and carbon dioxide was present. Soon, Cordes heard the sounds. He double-checked with a stethoscope. All was OK. He had completed the intubation.

Several times over two weeks, Cordes performed this difficult task at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. His professor, Dr. George Arndt, marveled at his student’s skills.

“He was 100%,” the doctor says. “He did it better than the people who could see.”

Tim Cordes is blind.

He has mastered much in his 28 years: Jujitsu. Biochemistry. Water-skiing. Musical composition. Any one of these accomplishments would be impressive. Together, they’re dazzling. And now, there’s more luster for his gold-plated resume with a new title: Doctor.

Cordes has earned his M.D.

In a world where skeptics always seem to be saying, stop, this isn’t something a blind person should be doing, it was one more barrier overcome. There are only a handful of blind doctors in this country. But Cordes makes it clear he could not have joined this elite club alone.

“I signed on with a bunch of real team players who decided that things are only impossible until they’re done,” he says.

That’s modesty speaking. Cordes finished medical school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the top sixth of his class (he received just one B), earning honors, accolades and admirers along the way.

“He was confident, he was professional, he was respectful and he was a great listener,” says Sandy Roof, a nurse practitioner who worked with Cordes as part of a training program in a small-town clinic.

Without sight, Cordes had to learn how to identify clusters of spaghetti-thin nerves and vessels in cadavers, study X-rays, read EKGs and patient charts, examine slides showing slices of the brain, diagnose rashes — and more.

He used a variety of special tools, including raised line drawings, a computer that simultaneously reads into his earpiece whatever he types, a visual describer, a portable printer that allowed him to write notes for patient charts, and a device called an Optacon that has a small camera with vibrating pins that help his fingers feel images.

“It was kind of whatever worked,” Cordes says. “Sometimes you can psych yourself out and anticipate problems that don’t materialize. … You can sit there and plan for every contingency or you just go out and do things. … That was the best way.”

That’s been his philosophy much of his life. Cordes was just 5 months old when he was diagnosed with Leber’s disease. He wore glasses by age 2, and gradually lost his sight. At age 16, when his peers were getting their car keys, he took his first steps with a guide dog.

Still, blindness didn’t stop him.

He wrestled and earned a black belt in tae kwon do and jujitsu. An academic whiz, he graduated as valedictorian at the University of Notre Dame as a crowd of 10,000 gave him a standing ovation.

Cordes finished medical school in December but still is working on his Ph.D., studying the structure of a protein involved in a bacteria that causes pneumonia and other infections.

Though he spends 10 to 12 hours a day in the lab, Cordes also carried the Olympic torch when it made its way through Wisconsin in 2002 (he runs four miles twice a week) and has managed to give a few motivational speeches and accept an award or two.

He’s even found time to fall in love; he’s engaged to a medical school student.

But Tim Cordes doesn’t want to be cast as the noble hero of a Hallmark special.

“I just think that you deal with what you’re dealt,” he says. “I’ve just been trying to do the best with what I’ve got. I don’t think that’s any different than anybody else.”

He also shuns suggestions his IQ leaves his peers in the dust.

“I just work hard and study,” he says. “If you’re not modest, you’re probably overestimating yourself.”

Through the years, plenty of people have underestimated Cordes.

That was especially true when he applied for medical school and was rejected by several universities, despite glowing references, two years of antibiotics research and a 3.99 undergraduate average as a biochemistry major.

Even when Wisconsin-Madison accepted him, Cordes says, he knew there was “some healthy skepticism.” But, he adds, “the people I worked with were top notch and really gave me a chance.”

The dean of the medical school, Dr. Philip Farrell, says the faculty determined early on that Cordes would have “a successful experience. Once you decide that, it’s only a question of options and choices.”

Farrell worried a bit how Cordes might fare in the hospital settings, but says he needn’t have.

“We’ve learned from him as much as he’s learned from us … one should never assume that any student is going to have a barrier, an obstacle, that they can’t overcome,” he says.

Sandy Roof, the nurse practitioner who worked with Cordes in a clinic in the town of Waterloo, wondered about that.

“My first reaction was the same as others’: How can he possibly see and treat patients?” she says. “I was skeptical, but within a short time I realized he was very capable, very sensitive.”

She recalls watching him examine a patient with a rash, feel the area, ask the appropriate questions — and come up with a correct diagnosis.

“He didn’t try and sell himself,” Roof adds. “He just did what needed to be done.”

Cordes says he thinks people accepted him because most of his training was in a teaching hospital, where he blended in with other medical students. One patient apparently didn’t even realize the young man treating him was blind.

Cordes grins as he recalls examining a 7-year-old while making the hospital rounds with Vance, his German shepherd guide dog. The next day, he saw the boy’s father, who said, “I think you did a great job. (But) when my son got out, he asked me, ‘What’s the dog for?’ ”

With his sandy hair and choirboy’s face, Cordes became a familiar sight with Vance at the university hospital. The two were so good at navigating the maze of hallways that interns would sometimes ask Cordes for the quickest route to a particular destination.

Some professors say Cordes compensates for his lack of sight with his other senses — especially his incredible sense of touch. “He can pick up things with his hands you and I wouldn’t pick up — like vibrations,” says Arndt, the anesthesiology professor.

Cordes says some of his most valuable lessons came from doctors who believed in showing rather than telling.

“You can describe what it feels like to put your hand on the aorta and feel someone’s blood flowing through it,” he says, his face lighting up, “but until you feel it, you really don’t get a sense of what that’s like.”

Dr. Yolanda Becker, assistant professor of surgery who performs transplants, noticed that Cordes had a talent for finding veins. “I tell the students, ‘You have to feel them … you just can’t look.’ For Tim, that was not an option.”

Becker soon became one more member of Tim Cordes’ fan club.

“He was a breath of fresh air,” she says. “He appreciated the fact people took time with him to feel the pulse, feel the grafts, feel where the kidneys are. … He asked very good questions.”

Cordes’ training included observing surgery, helping treat psychiatric patients at a veterans hospital and traveling beyond the hospital walls to the rural corners of Wisconsin.

For six weeks, he experienced the front lines of medicine with Dr. Ben Schmidt, accompanying him from house calls to the hospital, tending to everything from heart trouble to chicken scratches.

They took time, too, to indulge Cordes’ passion for cars. Cordes, who reads Road & Track and Car and Driver magazines faithfully, is a Porsche fan. Knowing that, an internist in Schmidt’s clinic brought her husband’s metallic gray Turbo 911 to work one day. Schmidt took the wheel, roaring down the road with Cordes in the passenger seat — his keen hearing detecting the sounds of the valves opening up.

Cordes also enjoys camping and canoeing with his fiancee, Blue-leaf Hannah (her exotic first name comes from a character in “Centennial,” a James Michener novel). They met when both interviewed for medical school.

“I was just mostly curious how he was going to do it,” she says. “I must have asked him a million questions.”

“I figured she was just sizing up the competition,” he teases.

She was impressed. “He was smart and pretty modest,” she says.

“Handsome, too,” he adds.

“Yes, handsome,” she laughs.

They began dating and will marry this fall. It’s a match made for Mensa. Hannah is now in medical school. She already has a Ph.D. in pharmacology — her dissertation was on a human protein implicated in heart disease called thrombospondin.

“Too long for a Scrabble game,” Cordes jokes.

The two have talked about starting a research lab together someday.

Looking back on medical school, Cordes says he savored the chance to help deliver babies and observe surgery — things he’s probably not going to do again. “I just made it a point to treasure them while I had them,” he says.

He once thought he’d become a researcher but is now considering psychiatry and internal medicine. “The surprise for me was how much I liked dealing with the human side,” he says. “It took a little work to get over. I’m kind of a shy guy.”

Cordes plans to attend graduation ceremonies in May.

For now, he’s humble about his latest milestone.

“I might be the front man in the show but there were lot of people involved,” he says. “Everybody was giving a good effort for me and I wanted to do right by them.”