Category Archives: Traveling

Travels to foreign countries or cities

Remote work Austria (Zell am Ziller) part 1

The journey to Zell am Ziller

From my home in The Hague to my destination in Austria (Zell am Ziller) it’s approximately a 1000km drive. I didn’t rush it and took an in between stop in Oberhaching (just below München) at around 869km. Everything went pretty smooth and I would arrive on Sunday at around 12:00AM.
It was perfectly in sync with the estimation I had emailed to my contactperson two days earlier. He had instructed me to call him on his phone when I would arrive. So I could be shown  around the accommodation.

I arrived at the accommodation only fifteen minutes earlier than the time I had sent before. No sign of life around the house. So I called my contactperson expecting him to come outside and welcome me. But no one answered the phone.. So I tried another 1, 2, 3 times. Hmmmm, still no one answering..
I had also gotten an exact address, so I decided to ring the bell of the house. Also no one opened up the door.. I attempted it another couple of times and tried to call the phonenumber another 4 or 5 times. Still without success. I wasn’t really freaking out, but I was actually standing there in Austria with nothing more than a phonenumber and address which both didn’t help me out. So I was running out of ideas about what to do..
Then suddenly I saw movement in the house. So I ringed the bell once more. A surprised looking woman opened up the door. In poor German I asked if my contactperson was there. But she couldn’t understand me and told me she was not speaking German herself. She asked me to wait. Some seconds later, she came back supporting an elderly lady walking slowly to the door. The lady told me that my contactperson was in Switzerland for the whole day. After some discussion they went back inside to call someone. When they came back the lady told me that the sister of my contactperson was coming over to help me out. I would only have to wait for an hour for her to arrive. I thanked the ladies and got back to my car.
It might sound like it all went pretty smooth from the moment the door was opened, but with my very limited German it was kind of a struggle. I was actually a sort of proud it worked out well in the end!
Anyway, I got back to my car and fortunately my home towns football club ADO Den Haag was playing a match at that moment. So I set the driver’s seat back and watched the game on my phone. After an hour the sister arrived, it turned out that my contactperson had forgotten about my arrival. She quickly showed me my room and wished me a pleasant stay.
Yes! I finally really arrived in Zell!

View from my room window

First week of remote work

I arrived on Sunday, and on Monday I would have my first remote working day. So Sunday  evening I started arranging my working desk. Which in hindsight I was pretty well prepared for. I had packed an HMDI cable with which I could connect my laptop to the television in the room  (having two screens is very useful for my work). Other things that also turned to be very helpful where my laptop stand, wireless keyboard and mouse AND (not directly related to work, but still very nice to have!) a Chromecast. Being able to cast Dutch television, Netflix etc to the television was really nice.

Fully set and prepared I fulfilled my first remote working days from Austria. Actually I liked the first week of working like this even more than I expected. It’s easier to focus, I like the fact that I don’t have to drive to the office every morning and downsides like not being able to talk face-to-face with colleagues is actually not much of a problem for me. The largest part of my team is Polish and is stationed in Poland, they’re working remotely almost whole year. So everything is discussed through chat or video calls anyway. Until now everything went pretty good and I think that the fact that most of my team is remote, was an important factor for that. If everyone or at least a large part of the team is working remotely, this automatically makes the chat room or video chatroom the central point of communication. Whereas when only a single team member is remote, it’s easier to miss out on discussions in the office where the rest of the team is together. So opposed to what I feared a little, in this first week I didn’t feel less connected or less part of the team working remote.

Spare time on location

Outside of working hours, I planned to do lot of snowboarding. And hopefully get to know some ski instructors on location to hang out with. Unfortunately the first week there was no snow at all. So the Zell am Zillers ski area was (unexpectedly) closed for the whole first week. So that meant no snowboarding in Zell and also no instructors to hang out with. Bummer!
I could have seen that one coming though, as it’s just the start of the wintersport season and theres always the risk of ‘no snow’.
During my first week it was very quiet in the village of Zell, because theres not much else to do besides skiing. Nearly all restaurants and bars were closed. It really felt a bit like a ghost village the first days I was here.
Fortunately there where some near higher up ski areas that were open. So I could go there for some snowboarding fun. In retrospective, I think it would’ve been better to arrive at least one week later (or even two weeks, because still the wintersport season still hasn’t kicked off yet).
On the other hand, the chill and peaceful environment also had a positive side. I could fully focus on my work and on some of my personal side projects I like to work on.

Hintertuxer Gletscher – one of the ski areas nearby

In summary: my first week of being remote was a nice experience, though next time I would prepare my options for some social contact a bit better OR go together with someone that also works remotely.
Anyway, this weekend two of my friends will join me here in Zell so that promises to be a lot fun. Looking forward to it!
Tschüs!

fresh fallen snow (shot from my room window)

Vietnam Blog 4 – Time to say goodbye

I’m writing this blog during my flight back home. Which takes a bit longer than expected as I missed my transfer flight in Abu Dhabi due to delay of my first flight. So I had to stay overnight in a hotel near the airport of Abu Dhabi (altogether +/- 7 hours of delay). Anyway, the last weeks of my trip where at least as amazing as the ones before. Packed with good experiences, but unfortunately also some less pleasant ones.

Floating market festival
20160709_064552To start off with a good one.. Phuong, our mentor, took Laura and me to the floating market festival. The people of Can Tho celebrated the long history of the floating market with a fruit carving exposition and a boat race. The fruit carving exposition took place in a large hall where they had setup cubicles, a bit like the fairs we know in the Netherlands. Beside the fruit carving cubicles, there where also some stands with original floating market foods and drinks and there where some music and dance performances. Unfortunately the start of the boatrace was delayed so much, that we weren’t able to attend it.
I think that, during the festival, we where asked for at least five times to pose for a picture. Just random Vietnamese people came up to us and asked to get a picture with us or sometimes just took a picture in a sneaky though obvious way. We apparently where very special for the people at the festival. I even was interviewed by young guy and his mother. The interview would appear, with picture, in one of the local newspapers. Too bad we didn’t manage to find the article.

Chau Doc (weekendtrip)
20160710_145026In the weekend after the festival we went on a trip to Chau Doc with the group of volunteers. Chau Doc is a region near the Cambodian border. It houses some great highlights like Sams Mountain, a mountain that lies just on the border of Cambodia and Vietnam. On and around Sams mountain there are a lot of nice pagodes. One pagode even had parts of it built inside the mountain (called a cave pagode). The serenity and peace around these mountain pagodes was impressive to experience.
The next day we went to Tra Su Forest. An almost untouched forest with canals passing through it. In a small boat we fared accross the canals. Silence, serenity and untouched nature prevailed. 20160711_083648Unfortunately my own experience in this part of the trip was getting worse and worse, as I was struck by food poisoning. I assume it was the egg at breakfast that caused it, as I was the only one that had an egg and was experiencing illnes. I was feeling really bad (throwing up and a hurting stomache) but we had to get back to Can Tho in the afternoon. So after a horrendous bustrip of more than 3 hours we arrived back in the volunteer house and I finally was able to get to bed.

Charity Class 2
Luckily I only needed one full day to recover and was able to attend the projects pretty quickly again. I only missed one project, so that was okay. For the coming week I had a new project on my schedule, Charity Class 2. In this project we teach English to a class of eight nuns. Some of them are pretty good at English. This makes the project a bit more challenging in terms of level of English. The nuns where very friendly and had a good dose of humor, which made the lesson a lot of fun. Too bad I only had to do this project once.

Floating market tour
20160718_071919On my last day in Can Tho we planned to visit the Cai Rang floating market by boat. We had to get up early in the morning. We left the house at 4:30AM to head to the dock and get on a boat to the floating market. While the sun was setting we fared across the Mekong river. When we arrived at the market our ‘tour guide’ tried to explain us (with a lot of hand gestures and Vietnamese words) that you could see what each boat was selling by what kind of ware they had hanging on their flagpole. After crossing through the market, we stopped at the boat of my dreams… A boat packed with pineapple!
After that we got off the Mekong river and found our way through the canals of Can Tho. Where we stopped at a noodle factory and got the chance to see the whole process of making rice noodles.

Ho Chi Minh City
IMG-20160718-WA0005After the trip to floating market, it was time for me to pack my bags and get going to Ho Chi Minh city. While I was waiting for the shuttle bus to pick me up, the other volunteers surprised my with a goodbye cake. So sweet of them!
At about 4:00PM I arrived at my hotel in Ho Chi Minh, so I took a warm shower (finally again!) and rested for the rest of the day. The next day I got up early and visited the War Remnants Museum. This museum exposes pictures and stories about the Vietnam war and also the horrors that took place. Especially the part of the museum where the effects of Agent Orange (the chemical bombs the US used) where exposed was hard to watch..
20160718_183537After visiting the museum I went over to Ben Thanh Market. This is a covered market where they sell a lot of different stuff: food, clothes, all sorts of souvenirs. I had read on the internet that the people in the market where pretty aggressive sellers and would try to charge tourists extremely high prices. Well nothing was lied about that! But I was able to score some good bargains after all (sometimes 1/3 or even 1/4 of the starting price).

My trip is coming to an end, it has been a wonderful time in Vietnam. I’m determined to come back to visit the North of Vietnam some day. What a great country with great people!

Vietnam Blog 3 – Big dinner!

Homestay Vinh Long (weekendtrip)

It’s been more than a week since my last blogpost and a lot has happened since. In my first
weekend we went to Vinh Long to stay in a homestay. In a homestay you stay at a home of a local family. When we arrived in Vinh Long we where welcomed by a very kind Vietnamese man. He took us down a narrow path to his home in a nice wooded area. It was a real quiet and soothing place, ideal to get some welcomed rest.
The home had a ditch with a lot of fish in it, so the owner of the house handed us some 20160626_125747rods to go fishing. We joked a bit about catching our own dinner and the owner agreed that he would prepare the fish, if we would catch one. After 30 minutes of fishing Britt (one of the other volunteers) suddenly started screaming. She caught a fish! The owner of the house came running towards us with a big smile, yelling: “Big dinner! Big dinner!”.

After chilling and relaxing in the hammocks, we went for a short bike ride and discovered a bit of the area. When we came back, we where invited to cook dinner with the family. We made our own springrolls and baked Banh Xeo (looks like a pancake with vegetables). When we where done cooking, the family served us with a table full of delicious food. And… also our own catched fish! Although we didn’t eat much of it, as it tasted like sand and river.

The next day we went on a boat trip with the owners brother in law. We sailed across the 20160627_131234Mekong river to a factory where they make coconut candy, popcorn and rice wine. They showed us the factory processes and we tasted some things. I also tasted a rice wine that was bottled with a snake in it. The venom of the snake apparently has a special effect on the wine. They told us that men would get arroused by drinking a lot of it. I luckily didn’t experience that, but it did have a… let’s say.. very special taste.

Volunteering projects

When we arrived back home, we got our schedules for the week ahead. I got Charity Class added to my schedule. In Charity Class we teach English to about 10 children of which the parents can’t afford normal school classes. The kids are eager to learn, this makes the lessons very enjoyable and rewarding. In this  class there are two students that are a bit ahead of the rest. So two other volunteers teach the class and I have to teach English to these two students (Linh en Lan). After class we went for a drink across the street together with the kids. Sin Tho’s (fruit smoothies) are very nice here!

The rest of my weekschedule stayed the same as last week. Last week the lessons at Thien An where a bit hard for me because the children are pretty restless and easily distracted. This week it went a lot better. I think it’s partly because I have a better understanding how to keep their attention, but also a large part is due to a woman from Thien An. She kept an eye on the class and sometimes showed a threatening pose with a stick in her hand. It seems that hitting children during class is a conventional thing. Even I was a bit on my toes as I didn’t want to have one of these kids being hit on my account. Luckily it didn’t come that far and the lesson was pretty successful.

Watching TV after class with the kids from Thien An

In one of the next lessons at Thien An, we tried to use my laptop to show a YouTube video with English words. This worked pretty nicely. For as long as we did the video part, we had the kids full attention and participation!

The City Orphanage really is one of my favourite projects. At the kids section we started learning English to some of the kids by playing memory and asking to say the English words for each memory pair they collect. They start to get the hang on things like ‘fish’, ‘boat’ and ‘flower’. It’s really nice to see!20160625_152524
At the men section there are some men that really enjoy taking pictures. So I took some selfies with them and used the Snapchat filters, which was a lot of fun.

Phu Quoc Island (weekendtrip)

Last weekend I went to Phu Quoc island together with one of the other volunteers, Daphne. Phu Quoc is an island near the west coast of Vietnam. Nature on the island is still very intact, as tourism on this island is in it’s beginning phase. There are a lot of resorts being built at the moment, so in a couple of years Phu Quoc will probably be a well known tourist paradise.

To get to Phu Quoc Daphne and I took the bus at 3:30 in the night from Can Tho to Rach Gia. From Rach Gia we took the Superdong boat to Phu Quoc, so on Saturday at about 13:00 we arrived in our hostel. When we arrived we directly headed over to the scooter rental. On our scooter we went off to visit some of the sweet spots on Phu Quoc. 20160702_164754We visited a waterfall, two nice beaches (the beaches where the ones with the white sand and blue water which everyone knows of) and Coconut Prison. Coconut Prison was a prison used during the Vietnam war. In this prison people where tortured in horrible and inhumane ways. They had reconstructed scenes of the torturing, it gave us chills.. It was a really impressive place to visit.

For Sunday we booked a boattrip with snorkling. Phu Quoc has some nice coral reefs and underwater life. We where lucky with a perfect sunny day and I loved the warm temperature of the water (28 degrees!).20160703_113023

At Monday we would leave the island with the boat at 13:00. So we booked a taxi to pick us up at 12:00. We still had the scooter in the morning, so we stood up early and decided to explore the island a bit more. Without any specific destination we drove towards the North of the island.
After a 45 minutes drive across wonderful roads, we decided to look at Google maps where we ended up. Apparently we had gone all the way to the top of Phu Quoc. From there we only had two roads to choose to get back to our hostel. The way we came or another long road down the coastline. On the way down the coastline there was a crocodile farm. So we decided to go for adventure and take the unknown road.
We visited the crocodile farm, which was nice but not really special. After that, we continued our trip down the coastline. After 10 minutes of uncomfortable driving on an unpaved road with holes and hills, we came to the realization that the road ahead wouldn’t get better for a long time. Which gave us a bit of time stress as we had only 1,5 hour left to get to the hostel. We didn’t have any choice but going on down the road, as the way back would take too long. So we drove on..
Then things became even a bit worse, we landed on a piece of road that was transformed in IMG-20160704-WA0003one big mudpool. While trying to get through, we slipped and almost fell. The scooter and our feet soiled with mud.. Now stress was really beginng to get to us. So while hoping for the best for the road to come, we continued driving. Daphne had to hop off and on another 3 times to get through muddy parts, but eventually after another 45 minutes of unpaved road, we managed to get back on a paved road again. Just having enough time to clean the scooter and ourselves and get to the hostel at 11:45. So.. that was a little bit pressing, but we made it.

Upcoming..

This week I got the same projects as last week. What did change was that three volunteers left the house, two new volunteers joined and also three new volunteers will join today. Next weekend we will probably go to Chau Doc (near the border with Cambodja). It seems that they a beautiful cave pagode there. I can’t wait!

Thanks for all the supportive and nice messages and see you all soon!

Vietnam Blog 2 – First (Impressive) Impressions

Ho Chi Minh – Can Tho

At my first full day in Vietnam I traveled from Ho Chi Minh to Can Tho where the volunteer projects are. The organisation already arranged a ticket for a minibus for me. It was a relaxing 2.5 hour drive, the bus was highly equipped and even had massage chairs! The luxury was in outright contrast with what I saw outside. People having dinner on the streets on small plastic chairs and chaotic traffic where everyone just horns and traffic rules aren’t really obeyed (I don’t know if they even have much rules).
Although these things may sound very unorganized and unpleasant. In these first days I came to know that it’s not as bad as it looks. Traffic is chaotic, but people always remain friendly and everyone anticipates on eachother to avoid collisions. I feel completely safe driving through traffic on my bicycle now.

Somewhere in the afternoon I got to the appartment where all volunteers stay. It is a big appartment with 3 floors and 4 bedrooms. There are currently 5 other volunteers staying in the house. They gave me a warm welcome and showed me everything in Can Tho.

My first project: Charity Hospital

The kitchen at the Charity Hospital

The day after I arrived in Can Tho, I had to get up at 8:30 for my first project. There already was a bicycle for me at the volunteers house. So together with two other volunteers I went to the Charity Hospital nearby. This is a small hospital that uses traditional medications and is ran by local volunteers and monks. When we arrived we where invited to have Vietnamese breakfast with the monks. Vietnamese breakfast is rice with a lot of warm Vietnamese snacks. I’m not used to eating a lot in the morning, let alone eating warm food while the temperature is 30C.. But, I did try everything and it was nice!
Not long after we finished breakfast, we served the hospital patients and their families rice and vegetables. After serving the patients we went to a local market together with two monks. We where going to collect food for the hospital. People from the market give food as a gift to support the hospital.

Can Tho market

Can Tho market

The monks handed us large bags with a mark of the hospital, so the market people knew for which cause we where collecting.
We got our bags filled with vegetables and rice and hopped back on the mopeds to return to the hospital. While we drove back we got suprised by a nice Vietnamese rainshower. I actually liked it. It was kind of refreshing! Back at the hospital we helped a bit with cutting the vegetables and got to eat some Banh Xeo (looks a bit like a pancake with vegetables). Also very nice!

 

Trip to the waterpark with City Orphanage

20160623_160745[1]One of the other projects is helping at the City Orphanage. This is a home where mainly disabled people are living and being taken care of. They are divided into 4 groups: children, men, women and babies. I was lucky and started my first day with something fun, a trip to the waterpark with the children. The trip was sponsored with money that one of the other volunteers had collected. It was touching to see how much fun this gave the children.

Waterpark with children of City Orphanage

Waterpark with children of City Orphanage

Teaching English at Thien An

In the early morning on my second day in Can Tho, I gave English lessons to a class of 10 children at Thien An orphanage. Thien An is a home for kids of which the parents couldn’t afford it to give their kids a good life. The orphanage is located just outside Can Tho in forest like environment, the route to this project is a gorgeous one.
In our English lessons we tried to learn them some words by pronouncing the words and playing hangman with them afterwards. There are some kids that are eager to learn and some of them are really easily distracted. This makes this project a bit of a challenge.

City Orphanage

IMG-20160624-WA0016[1]

Playing with the kids at City Orphanage

For the City Orphanage project I visited all the four groups (children, men, women and babies) with one other volunteer. We started at the children. We brought two bags with toys from the volunteers house for the kids to play with. Again it was really touching to see how happy these children are with our visit. I think I’ve been hugged over a thousand times already. I think the children had a great time. The other volunteer even got to teaching a couple of English words to one of the kids, amazing!

Next up where the men. I was already warned by the other volunteers, that it could be really confronting. And yes it was confronting.. At the mens section most of the men lie or sit on the ground seemingly without knowing where they are. Also the bad smell in this section is one I won’t ever forget. Our job is to bring some joy where possible and help feeding the men, as they’re unable to eat by themselves. This part of the project was hard, it was also really difficult to get contact with most of the men.

One of the kids in the women section of City Oprhanage

One of the kids in the women section of City Oprhanage

Then we went on to the women. At the women section there also where some women that couldn’t do much more than laying down. We also needed to feed the women, but till now I haven’t done that yet as it was already done when we arrived. In the women section there are some kids that are too handicapped to participate in the children section. We played a bit with them and the women to bring some joy.

After that we went up to the baby section. Doing the babies section as last one is really good to finish with a good feeling. A room full of lovely babies and one adorable little playful girl really makes your day. Unfortunately also at the babies there are a couple of bad cases.. There is one baby with a waterhead with the size of a watermelon. As I understand, the baby has lot of pain which is surpressed by paracetamol, but there is not enough money to keep giving him that for a long time..
Theres also one baby that is infected with HIV, luckily this girl doesn’t seem to suffer from it right now. All together, the babies section is a happy and hopeful one. Now and then babies get adopted and hopefully will be offered a better future with loving parents. Not long ago one of the babies got adopted by a couple from Montreal Canada.

Weekend trip to Vinh Long

This Sunday and Monday we’ll be going to a homestay in Vinh Long. Later more about this trip on my next blogpost. Have a good weekend everyone!

Vietnam Blog 1 – Ready, set, go!

20160621_153650

Ho Chi Minh City

Finally it’s about to start. From the 10th of March 2016 I started preparing for my trip to do voluntary work abroad. During this period I got the necessary vaccinations, got my visa, attended a volunteer-preparation day at Muses and did a lot more to prepare well for the trip. I’m really excited to go for it now!

You might be wondering what my reason for doing voluntary work is, why abroad and why Vietnam?
One of the reasons I got interested in doing this, was by my girlfriend Fleur. She did voluntary work at Mercy Ships for 2,5 months last year. She helped on the Hospital Ship when it was docked in Madagascar. When she came back, her positive and impressive stories inspired me to do something myself. Fleur came back with a lot of good experiences, but also some really confronting ones. There is a great need for help in a poor country like Madagascar and the same is true for a lot of other countries. It got me thinking about what I could and should do.
I figured it would be wonderful if I could support people in need and at the same time have a great experience myself by getting to know a new culture and country. So I started searching the internet for the options. I found an organisation Vrijwillig Wereldwijd and made an appointment with one of the founders to talk about the projects they work on. In this appointment Vietnam caught my attention, I liked the diversity in the projects and am very interested to get to know more about the Asian culture. The projects are focussed on teaching English and support with daily activities like helping in the kitchen and playing games with the kids. I’ll write more about the projects in detail in my blogposts later on.

IMG-20160621-WA0001

view from the hotel (Lele hotel, Ho Chi Minh City)

I just landed in Ho Chi Minh City and will stay in a hotel in the city for one night. Tomorrow I will be traveling to Can Tho by bus. Can Tho is the town where I will stay and where the projects are located.

More soon!