Breathtaking natural beauty and enchanting sunsets. Iconic landscapes and rich Native American history. Welcome to New Mexico, also known as The Land of Enchantment. No state better captures the true essence of the American Southwest than New Mexico -- and the best way to experience this is to go off the beaten path in Ruidoso, New Mexico.

Certain Ruidoso spots are obligatory visitor destinations, such as Ruidoso Downs and the Lincoln National Forest. However make sure not to miss out on these unique and offbeat things to do in Ruidoso:

Ziplining at 11,489 feet up!

Ziplining gets exponentially more fun as the elevation increases, it's a scientific fact*
* may not be "scientific" or a "fact" but it is the truth

Ziplining at Grindstone Lake is one of the many unique and offbeat things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico

Like any good ski company, Ski Apache offers plenty of adrenaline-pumping outdoor summer activities as well. These include mountain biking, hiking, a 9-hole disc golf course, and of course the star of it all, their impressive ziplines.

Ziplining at Grindstone Lake is one of the many unique and offbeat things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico

Ziplining at Ski Apache is an unforgettable experience. Located over 11,000 feet above sea level (3,500 metres), this three-part zipline tours covers nearly two miles in distance (over 2.7 kilometres), offers "the most spectacular view in Southern New Mexico" and hits speeds of up to 65 MPH! (105km/hr!) Now tell you me that you don't want to experience this ;)

Best of all, ziplining is open year-round!

Gallop over to the Museum of the Horse

I have an unhealthy fixation with strange, unique and one-of-a-kind museums. No museum is too small or too quirky. Few museums are worth a second visit but every museum is worth one.

Spiderman says everybody gets one -- first on Family Guy, and then two years later he said it for the first time in the comics
"Everybody gets one" according to Spiderman in Family Guy S06E03. Little known fact: Two years later Spiderman said those same words in the comicbook for the first time.

The Museum Of The Horse in Ruidoso changed its name to Hubbard's Museum of the American West but the museum is no less interesting, especially to anyone fascinated by horses or the history of the American West.

The Museum Of The Horse is one of the many unique and offbeat things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico
"Free Spirits at Noisy Waters" by Dave McGary is a collection of eight giant horse scupltures located on the grounds of the Museum of the American West. Photo via pamwood707

The Hubbards were a racing family, which explains why the museum is located next to the race track, Ruidoso Downs. It focuses on a wide variety of regional history, from wild horses and horse racing to Native Americans, pioneers and frontier life.

Although small, a lot is packed into the museum. Scultpures, horse carriages, weapons, art and a plethora of antiques, all of which have detailed descriptions. There are also seasonal exhibits as well.

  Entrance to the grounds is free, but the museum costs $7.

Don't forget to stop by Ruidoso Downs located next door!

Horse racing at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico
Ruidoso Downs

Try Something You've Never Done Before

When it comes to outdoor activities, that is where Ruidoso really shines, regardless of whether it is summer or winter.

Horseback riding around Grindstone Lake is one of the many unique and off the beaten path summer activities in Ruidoso, New Mexico

Summer Activities

During summer there is horseback riding, disc golf, hiking, mountain biking, cycling tours (on the road), fishing, ziplining, horse racing, camping and more. Pick one (or more) of these that you have never done before and give it a go. What better way to create some unforgettable memories in Ruidoso?

Snowboarding at Grindstone Lake is one of the many unique and offbeat winter activities in Ruidoso, New Mexico

Winter Activities

Cold weather means skiing, snowboarding, winter ziplining, tubing, sledding, and all sorts of other snow-filled activities. Decide on one that you've never done and make sure put it on your Ruidoso to-do list.

Go Mountain Biking Around Grindstone Lake

Ruidoso has nearly a dozen lakes, parks and recreation areas -- one for every 700 residents -- so outdoor activities abound. However the hiking trails around Grindstone Lake are some of the most relaxing, beautiful and enjoyable of all these activities.

Mountain biking around Grindstone Lake is one of the many unique and offbeat outdoor activities in Ruidoso, New Mexico

There are 18-miles of multiple use trails around Grindstone Lake and on into the neighboring Lincoln National Forest designed by the International Mountain Biking Association. In other words, sure they are suitable for hiking, but they were designed for mountain biking. ;)

Map of the 18 miles of hiking and biking trails around Grindstone Lake in Ruidoso, New Mexico
screenshot from discoverruidoso.com

Grindstone Lake also offers fishing and has a 27-hole disc golf course.

Disc golf at Grindstone Lake is one of the many unique and off the beaten path outdoor activities in Ruidoso, New Mexico

Unlesh the Beast at Pillow's Funtrackers

Go karts, bumper boats and miniature golf, oh my! Pillow's Funtrackers is a unique theme park that is fun for kids of all ages -- including our inner kid. (When was the last time you released that guy?) ;)

Open all year round, Pillow's Funtrackers attracts thrill-seeking guests from all of New Mexico, not just visitors to Ruidoso.

Pillow's Funtrackers is a unique and offbeat theme park in Ruidoso, New Mexico

All three go kart tracks, the bumper cars, miniature golf course and mountain maze are open year-round, however the bumper boats and gemstone panning are seasonal activities.

  Orlando's Most Offbeat Theme Parks

  Prices are suprisingly affordable as well. For $100 you can get 20 tickets, each good for one admission on any of the 20 rides.

Want More?     Offbeat Travel Guides   New Mexico Travel Guides   USA Travel Guides

  This article was sponsored in part by Discover Ruidoso, however it should go without saying that all experiences are my own opinion and were not influenced in any way.

  Know of any other unique and offbeat Ruidoso activities?

Published in United States

Medellin. The City of Eternal Spring. This business city turned tourist hub may never be able to shake away the memories of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, but that's okay. History builds character and the modern Medellin has become one of the safest (and most fun) cities in the world. Plus there are many more memorable things to see, do, eat and enjoy around the city nowadays -- like experiencing a colorful Christmas in Medellin.

Imagine wandering around a city illuminated by over 30 million Christmas lights, including over 800 kilometres of rope lights and tens of thousands of glowing figures and displays. Known as El Alumbrado ("the lighting") this unique tradition is truly one for the bucket list.

Christmas in Colombina is best celebrated in Medellin with El Alumbrado

A Colorful & Delicious Christmas in Medellin, Colombia

Although public lights displays in the city during the holiday season date back to the 1850's, it's really only been during the last 50 years that the modern light show has evolved. Beginning the first week of December and lasting until mid-January, the Christmas lights of Medellin have become such a big event that in recent years more than four million people from around the world come to Medellin to experience El Alumbrado. Nowadays there is a different theme every year -- and gets a little bit more grandiose every year. Past themes include "Colombia is Light" "Our Chistmas" and "Values Illuminate Christmas".

The entire event is focused around the lights over and along the Medellin River, which cuts right through the center of town. Colorful lights flow across the water and illuminate its surface. It truly is a magical sight to behold.

El Alumbrado in Medellin is the perfect way to spend an authentic Christmas in Colombia

According to numbers on last year's El Alumbrado, the Christmas lights are estimated to use 0.8 gigawatt-hours of total electric power over 45 days, which is equivalent to about 50 minutes of total power consumption in city of Medellín over the entire year. The entire event has been coordinated by the Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) since 1967, so we can expect even more extravagent lightings as they approach the 50th anniversary.

El Alumbrado in Medellin is the only way to spend Christmas in Colombia

A Feast for the Eyes and the Stomach

While the lights of Medellin may be the main highlight of the Christmas season, the food comes in a close second. Here are some of my favorite Colombian consumables that every visitor needs to try:

Buñuelos - Fried cheese balls. Unconvinced by that description, need I say more? These juicy treats are so delicious that you can find them year-round in many parts of Colombia. However they are much more common (and addictive) during the Christmas season.

Hojuelas - Because frying makes everything better, hojuelas are also a popular winter pastry. They come in many different forms, from elongated fried crisps to triangluar shapes that resemble samosas and even more elegant designs, such as flowers.

Natilla - This custard pudding comes in a seemingly never-ending variety of shapes, colors and varieties depending upon where you try it. Served cold it may look unappealing at first try it but trust me -- nothing with this much sugar in it can be bad.

Ready for Christmas in Medellin yet?

  This post was brought to you by the fine folks at Medellin Travel @medellin_travel

  flickr // Ivan Jota chilangoco Ivan Jota

Published in Colombia

Canada is an amazing winter destination due to its pristine beauty and wealth of outdoor winter activities. There is something for everyone here! Of course buying all your gear or forgotten items while on winter vacation is considerably more expensive than bringing them from home. So, if you are heading to Canada this winter, here is what you need for some of the most popular activities:

Elk Viewing

Getting to see winter animals in their native environment is a humbling, peaceful activity -- and a great opportunity for photographers. Edmonton, Alberta is home of the Elk Island National Park and offers some of the best winter Elk viewing in all of Canada. Don't forget:

  • Binoculars
  • Photography gear

Dogsledding

Banff, Alberta is home to the Banff National Park and an amazing destination for adventurous winter activities such as dogsledding. To avoid expensive gear rental fees, be sure to bring:

  • Fleece or down jacket with a wind/water proof shell
  • Supportive insulated winter boots (or water-resistant hiking boots) above the ankle
  • Goggles or sunglasses
  • Lip balm to protect against the cold, dry winter winds

Skiing is one of the best winter activities in Canada

Skiing

Canada has no shortage of skiing destinations for people of all skill levels, however Whistler, British Columbia is consistently ranked as (one of) the top ski destination in Canada. It not only is fun for kids and adults, but also has plenty of non-skiing activities as well, including snow tubing and snowcat tours. For those who plan to go skiing, do not forgot to bring:

  • Thick, waterproof parka with a hoodie
  • Supportive insulated winter boots (or water-resistant hiking boots) above the ankle
  • Any ski gear you own that is not too cumbersome to bring (to avoid high rental fees)

Winter Festivals & Events

For seasonal festivals, shows and events, there is nowhere better to be than Quebec. Food festivals. Holiday shows. Performances and events a plenty. There is something new to do every day here during winter. However the pinnacle of all Canada's winter festivals is the Quebec winter carnival, Le Carnaval de Québec. It is one of the world's largest winter festivals and includes parades, parties, ice sculptures, sleigh races, shows, amusement rides and more.

What to bring to Le Carnaval de Québec?

  • Your appetite -- there are plenty of wonder winter foods and delicious dishes available
  • A swimsuit!

Why your appetite? The carnival also includes the "Bain de Neige" or snow bath. The unique challenge is something unique that you won't soon forget!

Everything Else

When it comes to general outdoor activities and family fun, Mississauga, Ontario is a great choice. There is plenty of great ways to pass the days outside. Some of their most popular activities include tobogganing, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating. Of course there are also lots of great festivals, events and even indoor activities as well. Just don't forget:

  • To bring a great attitude and be ready for a fun winter vacation!

  One final note: do not bring any cotton clothing. Cotton (including blue jeans) absorbs moisture and when combined with the cold, snowy Canadian winter, can easily cause hypothermia.

Published in Canada

Think of skiing and a resort with traditional Alpine chalets may come to mind, or you might see more of the canyon scenery of Colorado. Does the USA have the top places to ski or is it Europe for you? They both offer superb skiing opportunities and surrounding areas to visit, plus they’re packed with top of the range facilities and have a fantastic atmosphere that makes visitors come back time and time again.

For me, it has to be Europe. My all-time favourite is Val d’Isère in France. It’s a huge resort as it also neighbours Tignes, so I’m never short of things to do on my skiing holiday. I can ski the 3000 metre terrain, which has a flurry of snow from the Mediterranean, but I can also join in the après ski fun at the many cafes, bars, and restaurants that line the route. In particular, Dick’s Tea Bar is a favourite. It’s a bar that has lovely drinks and nibbles and then turns into a late night venue with a DJ.

Val d’Isère is great for my friends and me, as we like to sample a little bit of everything, but with its ice skating rink, tobogganing area, water and leisure centre, and spa, it is suitable for people of all ages and circumstances. The town centre is a worth a visit too with a Monday market as well as designer shops.

The snowy mountains of Val D'isere in France are perfect for skiing

I’ve always used Ski Bonjour for finding a chalet in Val d’Isère. Bonjour-Bivouac has been my favourite so far. It’s only 40 metres away from the slopes so I can hop straight on when I’m up and ready in the morning! And for a little bit of luxury, it has a sauna and chef to make my holiday experience totally relaxing. I’ve also stayed at Bonjour-Palmyre. This was similar to Bonjour-Bivouac but also had its own cinema room and is really close to my aforementioned favourite, Dick’s Tea Bar.

But I have heard that the US can rival Val d’Isère. One of my good friends regularly goes to Sugarloaf in Maine. This has recently been improved with over $5 million of investments but she has always enjoyed skiing there, even before the improvements. Although Katie has her own favorite hotel that she is loyal to, Sugarloaf is full of motels, bed and breakfasts, and cottages available for rent. Passing the day away by skiing the 138 trails and exploring the ski town sounds like paradise to me. She also headed out West to Colorado Springs to get a completely different view. As well as experiencing the fantastic skiing in the mountains, she spent some of her time seeing the area, including visiting Old Colorado City.

The snowy mountains of Sugarloaf, Maine in the USA are perfect for skiing

I’d love to join her one day so that I can experience skiing in a completely new area. I’ve seen that new ski resorts are opening in places such as India, China and Japan too, which would be another different experience!

So where is your preferred skiing destination? Are you open to new places or do you have a firm favourite that your return to for every holiday? And most importantly, would you cross the pond from your best location?

  flickr   //   jeremy-couture   rudiriet

Published in France

Thoughts of Montana often conjure up scenic images of rollings hills, pristine streams and snow-capped mountains, however the most gorgeous time of year is undoubtedly during the winter.

There are few things more gorgeous than fresh snowfall that has yet to be broken by tracks or the twinkling of a thousand stars on a cold, cloudless night. And nothing is more fun in this winter wonderland then gliding down a mountain slope on skies or tearing across the fresh snow on a snowmobile.

Snowy Montana winter

Before beginning to traveling the farthest corners of the globe I started in my own backyard and few states impressed me as much as Montana during the winter. Not only is it gorgeous but it's also a playground for grown-ups, a chance to once again feel like a carefree kid with no responsibilities. It is also an amazing family destination because it is fun for all ages.

Two years ago while passing through Montana I had my first experience with winter glamping and no other glamping experience since has come close. It's hard to even convey how amazing it is to spend the day outside, bundled up against the low temperatures and frolicking around like a kid, only to come inside from the cold and instantly be transported to warm, safe haven where a nice glass of German Riesling and a warm fire await.

Montana glamping

Glamping is still a relatively new vacation option yet it is one that has quickly become popular in many countries around the world. It is, as the name suggests, glamorous camping and no other form of camping compares. Imagine a tent, yurt or other semi-permanent structure that is so elaborately furnished and stocked with modern technological conveniences that it is hard to even believe it isn't a luxurious cabin. Now that is glamping.

However the best part of glamping in the winter is the outdoor activities.

SKIING

Arguably the most popular of all winter spots, Montana is well-known for it's amazing skiing. What the states lacks in population it makes up for in mountains and they come alive during the cool weather months. Whether beginner or expert there is something for everyone in this great state.

ICE-SKATING

Picture a pristine frozen lake...and now imagine you whisking across it on skates, spelling out your name in cursive letters or doing figure eights. Ice-skating is my favorite of all winter sports and as most of you know how clumsy I am, it should go without saying that I don't injure myself nearly as much on the ice as I do while skiing.

SLEDDING / SNOWMOBILING

Whether you prefer hitting the snow on a gasoline powered beast of a machine or comfortably sailing across it on a horse-drawn sleigh, both offer a relaxing and refreshing way to enjoy the winter wonderland.

Ranch Rock Creek in Montana during the winter

Of course there are plenty of other winter activities to partake in, especially if you stay somewhere that will cater to your every whim, such as The Ranch at Rock Creek. This includes winter paintballing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, sledding for the kids and pistol or rifle shooting for the adults.

Tempted to try glamping, either as a family or as a romantic getaway for two? The Ranch has you covered! Of course if you still are not sold on that idea, they also have private log homes and a more traditional iconic lodge. Whichever you decide just know that the possibilities for wintertime fun are endless. This year make your winter vacation an unforgettable one at The Ranch at Rock Creek!

Have you ever been glamping?

Share your comments below!

  This post was brought to you by The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana. Photos provided by The Ranch and flickr // timo_w2s ridge

Published in United States

The late December snow and ice crunched almost rythymically under our feet as we approached the isolated dog kennel nestled in the backwoods of Whistler, BC. Dusk was rapidly turning into dark, but the fleet of Alaskan huskies designated to pull our sled were bouncing with energy like it was high noon.

"Don't let them lick you in the face!" shouted one of the tour guides as she approached us bearing an arm full of harness equipment. "They have a raw meat diet, so we strongly discourage them from licking people...you know because of bacteria and stuff." We continued petting the high strung canines weary of their "bacteria laced tongues" while our guide, Jen, gave us a brief history of dog sledding in the Canadian outback.

One of the first things you will notice about working sled dogs is the odor! In a species where pecking order is everything, a leader NEEDS to smell like a leader. It is a primal stench that will absolutely permeate any clothing you are wearing. The next thing you will notice is the size (or lack thereof) of your sled team. We had an 8-dog team and the largest dog was probably 90 lbs. Everybody else in the pack was more like 70 lbs. However do not mistake this lack in size with a lack in heart, endurance or determination.

I stepped on the skids jutting out of the back of the sled while Jen lifted the ice anchor out of the frozen soil. I then proceeded to use my right foot to lift the sled break out of the mounds of snow in front of it and said the one thing I had been dying to say my entire life......"mush!" One trite command and we were off wooshing and meandering through the dark, icy, evergreen tree lined trails of the Callaghan valley.

After about a quarter mile of intense mushing, "The Incident" happened. The crisp, clean, wintery breeze that was once blowing through my knit cap was now perfumed with the rankest stench that you could ever imagine. My brother Rome, who was playing camera man at the time, and our guide Jen gagged simultaneously as the awful smell circulated in their nostrils.

  Apparently, sled dogs poop WHILE they are running. Not before the run, not after when the excitement has worn off and they have some time to themselves, DURING! Now, if the lead dog poops, that means every dog behind him has to trample through the warm, moist pile AND the sled has to run over it.

This is not your ordinary poop by the way. This is the poop of champions, laid by a hound that is much more primal and feral than any of the lap dogs lazy laying around 78.2 million American living rooms. This is the kind of smell that sticks to your ribs and leaves you debating rather or not you are actually tasting it as well as smelling it.

The guide explained to us that the dogs are discouraged from relieving themselves on the trail, but how can you stop something like that? We're talking about an animal that will run until his or her heart explodes if the musher doesn’t stop them on occasion and mandate a break. I've got to tell you, I have never been happier to smell doo doo in my life.

I'm not writing this to discourage you from experiencing the joy of dog sledding yourself. I'm telling you this so that if you are ever in that position you will be prepared to enjoy the aroma of a champion. Godspeed!/p>

Published in Canada

The many attractions of Switzerland make it an excellent destination for a European adventure. From the majestic beauty of mountain landscapes to the cultural attractions of some historic cities, there is much for visitors to enjoy on a trip to this landlocked country. Aside from the usual Swiss highlights, there are plenty of other things to see and do and the following are some to consider.

Enter a Ski Marathon

Switzerland has long been a popular destination for winter sports and there are plenty of resorts offering catered ski chalet holidays. This type of vacation provides access to the slopes and the opportunity to take in some impressive alpine scenery of snow covered peaks and valleys. While many holidaymakers enjoy racing down a prepared or off-piste slope, others prefer cross-country skiing and for these the Engadin Skimarathon is something to consider. This annual cross-country race is open to anyone over the age of 16, with up to 13,000 competitors taking part each year. The full distance covers some 42km although there is also a half-marathon that runs to 21km. For the adventurous that want to take part, it can be an incredible Swiss experience and one they will certainly remember.

Take a Toboggan Ride

A less energetic way for all the family to enjoy some winter scenery is on offer at La Tzoumaz resort in the Alps. It has one of the longest toboggan runs in Switzerland, which stretches out to around 10km in length. Access to the top of the run at Savoleyres is by cable car and from there it is an 820m drop all the way back down to the resort. This allows riders to build up some speed as they slide to make it an exhilarating experience for children and adults.

Stay in Jail

Lucerne is a popular destination in Switzerland and the Jailhotel in the city offers a unique way to stay there. The historic building was originally constructed in the mid 1800s and served as a prison for many years before being converted to a hotel in the 1990s. It retains many of the original features and visitors can get a feel for what prison life was really like as they spend the night on bunk-beds in a barred cell. There are also larger Governor and Library rooms on offer and as it is a budget hotel, it has some of the most affordable prices for accommodation in Lucerne.

Walk Through History

The Ballenberg Open-Air Museum is situated on Lake Brienz and offers the chance to stroll through some Swiss history. Around one hundred traditional buildings from across Switzerland have been brought to the museum and reconstructed in all their glory. This includes homes, schools, farm buildings, and other architectural gems. The museum also provides demonstrations of traditional Swiss crafts and food making, as well as having a farmyard display of over 200 animals and garden areas growing local plants, herbs, and flowers.

Switzerland is a beautiful country, with scenery and attractions that ensure anyone will have an enjoyable time on a trip. Those that choose it for a vacation should consider trying some of the activities shown above. They offer a more unusual experience, but are certainly worth the effort for a truly fun Swiss adventure.

Published in Switzerland

Nothing says winter quite like a proper snowfall, so make it your mission to experience it properly. Instead of a mild winter with plenty of grey skies and rain showers, you could be having fun in the snow, making memories and trying something new. That’s what Andermatt in Switzerland has to offer you; it truly is an alpine playground!

So how do you actually get to Andermatt, and what is there to do when you arrive? Here are a few hints and tips to start your planning process...

Travel Information

The closest airport to Andermatt is in Zurich, 125 kilometres away; by car it should take you around 90 minutes, but if you prefer to get the train you can relax on your 2.5 hour journey. Then again, if it is easier for you to fly into Milan (MXP) the drive is still only a reasonable two hours. When you consider how much you’ll be able to do on your trip, the drive becomes a lot more appealing! Also, it’s a great time to look at the scenery as you make your way to the resort.

    Logistics
  • There are around 20 airlines that fly into Zurich airport, so you should easily be able to find a plane to get you into Switzerland.
  • You will need to change trains to get from the airport to Andermatt so be sure to write down the times you need before you depart.
  • If you don’t want to hire a car or get the train, organise a transfer to take you from the airport straight to your hotel.

Accommodation

When you get to Andermatt, you’ll want somewhere to put your bags and rest your head. There are some excellent places popping up, but The Chedi Andermatt looks especially nice...a perfect way to enjoy a little slice of Swiss luxury. Places like this stay true to the alpine playground description; it has a ski-in living room and a spa and wellness centre with hydrothermal facilities, that can help to get rid of those aches and pains from the piste!

Activities

Once you’ve arrived and had a chance to recover from your journey, it’s time to explore the good stuff. There is guaranteed snowfall in Andermatt, so skiing and snowboarding is the order of the day. You can go almost 3,000 metres high up Gemsstock Mountain in cables cars before you come down again with gravity! Beginners might prefer the Gurschenalp and Nätschen Mountain...

It’s worth keeping in mind that the temperatures in Andermatt are between -5ºC and -10ºC in the winter months; it’s a very good idea to bring your winter woolies with you. The cold can often deceive skiers who believe they’re getting hot; your skin will be exposed to the chill if you take off your layers so avoid doing this to protect yourself against frostbite!

Published in Switzerland

Most people who live in places considered to have a 'normal climate' often long to the south. Yes, sure enough 'south' often has it all, cheap drinks, temperature, beaches, cheap food, cheap hotels, cheap flights...

But what many of these places lack is sights and adventure! And even if they have a bit of that, not too many of us normal people enjoy hiking in the mountains in 40° C (or more!) heat. Most of us at some point get a little sick of the same old thing, even if the beaches on Costa Del Sol might not be exactly like the ones on Gran Canaria, the concept is the same -- Warm, sandy and sunny. As a Norwegian, and particularly a Northern Norwegian, I know all about longing for the southern parts of the world. I may not have been to too many exotic places, but I have spent my fair share of time in Southern Europe, on the beach, flat out, frying in the heat. Now I've "re-discovered" my own country and region that I have gotten a little older.

I moved to the town of Tromso in Troms County, Norway. I moved here predominantly to study, but I fell in love with the town. The town has many positive aspects, firstly during summer time, it never gets dark due to the midnight sun, and during summer there are numerous festivals and activities going on, during the winter, the northern lights dance across the sky almost like magic. The town is located on an island, in the middle of a strait leading up to a fjord. The airport is located in the middle of the island, 5 minutes away from the city centre. The airport has daily flights to other destinations in Norway such as the capital, Oslo, but also international flights linking it to world cities such as London. During my time in Tromso, I worked for three hotels, all at a different end of the scale. The town offers everything from good value 3 star hotels, to high end 5 star hotels. There are major chains located in the city such as Scandic, Radisson BLU and Choice Hotels, yet also smaller chains and independent hotels all offering something unique to the city. As the largest city in Northern Norway. Tromso offers a vibrent night-life, a multitude of shops and leisure, as well as great sights.

The main sights are:

  • The Mountain Cable Car that takes you up to the mountain, giving a panoramic view over the city. On the top there is a restaurant serving local cuisine as well as lighter meal options.
  • The Arctic Cathedral located by the iconic Tromso Bridge, facing the city centre. The church hosts intimate concerts throughout the year yet is also a sight to see on its own.
  • City Museums are the three main museums in Tromso. The Town Museum on the southern tip of the island, which focuses on town history; the Roald Amundsen Museum, which holds a large collection from arctic expeditions and the ship Polarstjernen (an old fishing ship located next to Polaria). Other things worth visiting include: Skipsbroen Bar at the Rica Ishavshotel, the best view in the city. Gründer Bar and Café, the best night club in town. The University with its botanical garden and geological exhibition as well as the Old Town area north of the bridge, containing the largest collection of old wooden, traditional Norwegian houses north of Trondheim.
  • Polaria is part of the Fram Centre, which is a research facility focusing on the arctic. At Polaria there are exhibitions on arctic wildlife, and the centre has seals and arctic marine life on display.

Polaria, Norway and the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Published in Norway

Old John Mellor, (look it up) had a point, happy people don't really create much. That is, they're not quite as motivated, nor is it as easy for us to quite grasp the point of it. Look, I'll give you a for instance: pain, addiction and mental illness gave us Crime and Punishment. Happiness and a contended life gets us The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.

I think a man on a Big Wheel in Vienna once said something similar, and said it better.

The point is that I’ve been late setting anything down because I am, quite simply, quite happy. Maybe it's a bit shameful that we rush to spread our misery, then go ahead and horde our happiness. Then again, maybe that’s just me. But, there you go and here we are.

In some ways, I'm back where I started, sat around in an old cricket jersey and shorts and looking out of the window. However, this time it’s a radically different landscape, one whose peak temperature today is predicted to be a giddy – 19, and that's going to be about it 'till well into next year.

I'm in a flat to the south of central Moscow, about forty minutes ride on the Metro to the centre. It's in one of the typical Soviet era tower blocks that are pretty much the standard here and that, to Western eyes, will always be viewed through the jaded prism of the Council estate. In truth, it's a perfectly decent way of living. I think, in the West, it was the bungled attempts at social engineering that accompanied their construction which marred the project. Then again, maybe not. It's not really my field.

I'm currently working at two vastly different schools; one to the far South of the city, (in the suburbs) and another that's so central I could throw a rock at the Kremlin wall from its front door, (not that that's a good idea). My classes are all at night, so I'm rarely home before 11pm, which, (other than lesson preparation) leaves the days my own.

Saint Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow, Russia
The obligatory shot of Saint Basil's Cathedral, Red Square

It's still a surreal experience, finding yourself in Moscow. I think, back from the vantage point of my flat in Lancashire, Moscow seemed such a distant proposition. Exotic, very possibly. Romantic, definitely. The reality doesn’t disappoint. Let's be clear, I'm not talking about ‘romantic’ in the Mills and Boon sense, I'm hardly likely to go off and recount you with torrid tales of forbidden love on the Steppe, but ‘romantic’ is still the right word. I didn't really appreciate 'till I got here just how much of Moscow had been built from my imagination. I don't think I guessed how much of myself I'd already invested in this place. It's hard really to describe it, but if I'd gone back in time and allowed the six-year old me to be John Wayne, (a big hero) for the day, I'd be getting somewhere close. Only the six-year-old me would probably have more sense than to stop every five minutes to remind themselves that they really were John Wayne.

Girl in Red in Red Square, Moscow, Russia
Girl in Red - Square, (ah ha!)

But it's worth reminding yourself. Otherwise, you risk taking it all for granted and that would be a crime. I mean, I live and work in Moscow. Surely that's amazing? That guy, whose daily commute to the office dragged him through the grey drudgery of the industrial Northwest, now commutes via the Kremlin walls. That guy, who might never of seen again, now stares out onto St Basils and Red Square. Please, tell me that’s not amazing. Because it is.

I didn't mean that last paragraph to sound quite as smug or self-congratulatory as it did, but there’s wonder everywhere here and it's hard not to get carried away. In what is gradually becoming Standard Operating Practice for this blog, I'll give you a ‘For Instance’. For instance, in, around, twenty minutes, I'm going to leave for my night shift at Kantemerskaya. The street light's have come on, so it's probably around -18 out there about now, (can the pedants hold back? I'm writing this in stages. The forecast referenced earlier was this morning, it's now SHIT I'M LATE!

Kantemerskaya, Moscow, Russia
Kantemerskaya

To be clear, the bit above really was genuinely typed in the moment. Remember, I promised not to lie. Yes, I could easily have deleted but, but as a consequence of being late this evening, I made a mistake that’s going to be really good when I get round to illustrating a point later on. Standby. You'll be amazed.

That, and I think it's funny.

Metro stairs in Moscow, Russia
Metro stairs

Where was I? That's it, Cold and The Metro. From the time I arrived, there's been a definite sense of ‘other’ about the people here that I'm still struggling to nail down. I can't put my finger on it, it's a little like a world that's run parallel to our own without ever meeting it. For instance, (see?) the mullet remains alive and well here, yet simultaneously, there's a sense of high fashion and style that would make the heppest of New York and London Hep Cats blush. We could go into it, but for now, just go with ‘other’. It's easier that way. Then, when the cold kicked in over the weekend, that sense of other suddenly became proof of the alien, which takes us back to the Metro.

Metro interior in Moscow, Russia
Metro interior

I've always loved the Metro. It's where all of Moscow comes together and has to sit side by side. It's absolutely massive, too. Seriously, the tunnels can go down as far as half a kilometre and, at times, it feels like there couldn't possibly be any more of Moscow out there as there's so much of it in the Metro. One of my regular commutes takes me into Borovitskaya, where the crowds at the bottom of the escalators – pensioners, children and all – could rival any mosh pit in the world. Together, we cram into the cattle crushes like the world's slowest moving stampede; slow, intractable and, once inside, inescapable. You can't even move your arms. You simply stand, your arms pinioned to your sides, and let the momentum of the crowd carry to the escalator. It's an odd way to start work.

Fruitstand in Moscow, Russia
Fruitstand

As I was saying, when the cold hit, this sense of ‘other’ became radically more extreme. Suddenly, people took on an entirely different shape. We're not talking about the odd fashionista bucking this year's winter trend either, we're talking about an entire city. Suddenly, every one's torso is grotesquely enlarged, either wrapped in enormous puffer jackets or shrouded head to toe in fur. Even heads have become enormous, as the Unshanka shifts from the exception to the norm.

Arbatskaya Station, Moscow, Russia
Arbatskaya Station

In the Metro, the overall effect of this can be breathtaking. Suddenly, you find yourself in an entirely foreign landscape, populated entirely by aliens. Moreover, as – inevitably – your dressed in exactly the same fashion, (more on this later) you inadvertently become both observer and observed. For those of us from small islands in the West, it's entirely strange, foreign and – have I said it? – amazing.

Fur here is not so much a fashion choice, as a necessity. Really – and I'm sorry for the animal rights people, (I really am on your side) – manmade fibres just don't work. If you've never been here, it's hard to understand, but facing a day when the warmest it will be is -24, isn't something to be treated lightly. Yes, I know, that – for a day every few years – various countries reach extreme temperatures, but that's not really the point. The point is that an entire people need to live, work – and occasionally have fun in this – well, it sort of changes your perspective. Should I give you a ‘for instance’? Yes, let's. For instance, I was meeting my friend in Red Square on Sunday, (you have no idea how cool it is to type that) when she was fifteen minutes late. I mean, that's fifteen minutes, it's nothing. In reality, despite my expensive climbing gloves, five of those fifteen minutes were enough to leave me feeling like my hands had been dipped in ice.

Shadows on Red Square, Moscow, Russia
Shadows on Red Square

It started with the feeling that my nails were curling back from my fingers, then ended with the loss of all feeling. That was fifteen minutes. That's how cold it is. I'll give you another; I was late for work earlier tonight, (ah ha!) so hadn't had time to eat before running out of the suburban Metro station at Kantemerskaya. I stopped at one of the many kiosks on the way to buy whatever I only had time to point to, then ran down the street eating as I went. This, as I said, was a mistake. By the time I arrived at the school, around half a mile away, my face and right hand were entirely numb. Out in the suburbs, with nothing but the tower blocks to halt the wind's progress, the cold is overwhelming. Even without the wind, it's like your skin is being daubed in acid as you move. For someone whose people have never spent anytime in these kind of temperatures, I'm afraid I just don’t have the vocabulary to really express it. Perhaps if I was a better writer, I might be able to paint a picture for you, but I'm not and I can't. You'll just have to imagine it.

kartmemeskaya, Moscow, Russia

But then, even the cold has its place in The Amazing. (I've decided to give it capitals). I never planned or wanted this to be easy, and the cold's part of that, just as much as anything else. There's a whole world out there and The Amazing doesn't discriminate on the grounds of temperature. I think it's all about experiencing it.

You see, rather than get wiser as I've got older, I've getting gradually more stupid. Seriously, (I'm sticking with the honesty promise) I knew more when I was eighteen than I do now and, no, that's not twenty years wasted. The certainty I always imagined existed in my elders and, so I was informed, betters, never really happened to me. Instead, every new piece of information I acquire generally contradicts the last one and, as I get older, I'm generally coming to see a bit of worth in each; which means nothing makes much sense. The point is, instead of the clear and polarised truths of old, I'm growing more unsure and more uncertain than ever. Less and less makes sense. More and more becomes unclear. But that's OK. Really, I'm fine with that. Because, with the loss of certainty comes a great mental and emotional cavern that can be filled with both awe and wonder.

Night in Moscow, Russia

You see, (and I'm going right back to the start here) I think anyone can do anything. I think that's going to be my spiel for a bit. If that imaginatively myopic Corporate type can do this, I think that leaves the field pretty much open to anyone. If that physically blind derelict from a few years ago can make it here and can see and experience this, then really, anyone can do anything. Believe me, I'm sincere in this; our possibilities are endless. We rarely, if ever, reach the end of our abilities. All of us are capable of so much more than the nine to five and the next mortgage payment. Don't get me wrong, I'm not disparaging that life, (not at all) I'm simply trying to say that there’s far more to any of us than the role others ascribe. You are not simply a parent. You are not an office worker. You are not managed or manager. You are all of those and far, far more. You can do anything.

Quite simply, you're amazing.

Published in Russia
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