Thursday, May 27, 2010

Midnight Sun - Norway

Hey, here it was my next amazing journey -
Norway, Nordkapp - 71° 10'21"N - August 4, 2004

Sun at 8:47 PM
Sun at 9:40 PM
Sun at 11:05 PM
Forgot to take more photos towards midnight!

Well, seeing the midnight sun was quite a bit of luck. When we departed from our Hotel in Honningsvag, it was heavily hazy and foggy. We were doubt if the sun would smile to us. Luckily after 45 minutes of drive, sky became clear. No wonder there was a proverb saying 'as changeable as weather'. Who knows when the fog will come again? Our guide made a very clever decision. He swapped our F&B session with the sun viewing session. That allows us almost a full hour to admire the midnight sun.

A sealiner brought in about 1,000 guests sharp on time at midnight, but the sun already gone. The sun didn't sympathize anybody becasue we were on time; were coming from the other part of the world; were whole-heartedly looking forward to see him again....

It was actually quite a long journey to see the midnight sun. Arrived Helsinki from Hong Kong, we had to drive all the way north for a day and a half, stayed overnight midway at Ivalo. Honningsvag is the northern-most city in Europe with habitants.

At Nordkapp, facing the Nordic Ocean, it was quite chilly and windy, though it was mid summer. But seeing the midnight sun, we were all excited and didn't care about anything else.

In northern Europe near the North Pole in summer, the sun is always there. Even 11pm, the sun is still bright and shinning. Sunset might happen for a few minutes, and sun rise again. What an experience!!

Anna's Amazing Journey - Midnight Sun

Thursday, April 15, 2010

King Pacific Lodge Canada – Perfect Luxury Hideaway Resort

My next amazing journey's destination was the luxury hideaway resort in Canada - King Pacific Lodge - Princess Royal Island at British Columbia. Actually if you are planning for your luxury hideaway holidays, this is one of my top suggestions.

We flew from Hong Kong to Vancouver and had a brief stop. From Vancouver, we were transferred to Bella Bella by a chartered flight which was part of the luxury all inclusive package offered by King Pacific Lodge. From Bella Bella, we were transferred to this remote resort by float plane. This is actually one of the top luxury resorts I have visited and at the same time, the most remote. I remember my boss said ‘We are in the middle of nowhere’ when we landed in Bella Bella. I’m sure you’ll feel the same when you are here.

There are several reasons King Pacific Lodge is on my Top 10 List. Here are a few of them:

Best Whale Watching
There were only 17 rooms. Some of them had sea view and only two of them had a balcony. One of the balcony rooms was occupied by my boss, of course. I was lucky enough to be assigned the other one with both sea view and a balcony. Hence I could enjoy whale watching by lying on a chair in my balcony. Three steps in whale watching: heard a sound, saw a splash of water, saw the whale’s head or tail or body. I went by late September and there were lots of them, as it was the best time in a year to watch whales at King Pacific Lodge.

Best Eco Adventure
Kayaking among sea lions and starfishes was something extremely interesting. The sea lions were curious to find out who we were and were not afraid of swimming around us. Water here was crystal clear and along the shore, we could see a lot of dark red starfishes, some of them had five limbs and some had more. Of course we did whale watching at near distance. I failed in bear watching because I went on a rainy day when the bears might probably prefer to stay home. Many other wildlife were seen in areas around the lodge.

Transportation within the lodge is by sea only.

Best Luxury Hideaway Resort
King Pacific Lodge is a perfect remote resort to do any corporate offsite because laptops and mobile phones wouldn’t work here. We were completely separated from rest of the world. My boss was happy to have full attention from everyone as they could not talk on mobile phones or check blackberries under the table while attending meetings. Likewise, if you want to enjoy a hideaway holiday, King Pacific Lodge is one of the top Canadian resorts where you won’t be disturbed by phone calls or emails. (Only VERY LIMITED access of internet and telephone was available at the business centre.)

From their official website:
King Pacific Lodge provides the ultimate in luxury adventure travel and ecotourism vacations from its location in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. As a luxury wilderness lodge, this is an unsurpassed eco adventure travel destination. Among its many accolades, King Pacific Lodge was selected as the Best Resort in Canada
by Condé Nast Readers' Choice Awards in 2008 and again in 2009.
– I personally think that KPL well deserves these awards.

Anna's Amazing Journeys - King Pacific Lodge

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ottoman Party

There were shops in Istanbul where we can rent an Ottoman custom to dress up ourselves. To prepare for our Ottoman Party, we were delivered to one of thoese shops to choose our own favourite custom. Our Ottoman Party was not only a party, but our next team challenge.

Our exercise for the day was to invite a guest with inspirational stories in their life to our party and share with us their experiences. I must say this was the most difficult exercise. All 'A' members in our team, Anna (2N), Ana (1N), Ashley, Adam together with our local guide Yavuz, held a strategic meeting at the Four Seasons before departing to the Grand Bazzar.

We actually had a number of proposals but none of them seemed perfect. Yavuz suggested to invite his wife to share their love story but we all wanted to test our luck at the Grand Bazzar first. As you know, once we were at a place with interest and fun, we all forgot about our target. We just enjoyed shopping the beautiful souveniors, the Turkish Blue Eyes and a lot many other cheap, colourful and beautiful things at the Grand Bazzar.

When we meet again over lunch, we had no chocie but to accept Yavuz's suggestion. Yavuz alrsoreminded us of the risk of other people might not turn up in the last minute which will spoil our entire plan. His wife and him will of course honour their promise. Yavuz then took us home after lunch to meet his wife and planned for the evening.

Dennis, a bronze-hair beautiful English woman, married a Turkish guy; a Protestian and a Muslim got married at a Cathorlic church...well not quite appropriate to share too much of their privacy here. But for sure their love story was really inspirational.

Ottoman Party & Presentation
As a tradition, we took our group photo over the party with all and everyone in Ottoman custom. Dennis came on time with some visual aids. Our group was picked to present first. The two 'N's were busy organising the visual aid while the boys conduct the presentation together with Dennis. We noticed that the carpet shop owner was the guest of one of our groups. Anyway, as we have guests with us, our boss decided to announce the results the following day.

I've asked my guide to wrap my head to make me look a 100% Ottoman
Yavuz and his wife were so helpful that we were completed impressed. Adam suggested to share our winnings with them. But believe it or not, we acctually didn't win a penny thought we were the second runner-up. The reason being too many complaints. Our boss finally decided to cancel the last team challenge and gave rest of our jackpot to charity. Wow, we can't look down on the power of complaining. But somehow, I did support such decision, as many of us didn't accept the 'rule of no rule' which induced the many complaints at the beginning.

Anna's Amazing Journey - Ottoman Party, Istanbul

Friday, March 26, 2010

More Training at Istanbul Heritages

The next team challenge was held at the Ottoman heritages such as Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. Today, our guide became Yasemin. My team members were Gavin, Simon, Asley, all Brits.

Over Demanding Walking Tours
It was actually a day of walking tours as all these places were just nearby to each other and were walkable from the Four Seasons. For me, it was quite a difficult day as I usually not able to walk that long way. As the Blue Mosque was a sacred place for Muslims, I brought a big scarf to cover myself up to make sure my arms are not shown. Of course shoulder cuts and shorts were not allowed. We also had to take our shoes off (quite smelly) at the entrance.

This time we were divided into four teams to visit either the Blue Mosque or Haghia Sophia and to answer a set of related questions. After all, our team decided to go to the Blue Mosque.

Anna at the Blue Mosque
Peter distributed the questionnaire and we had to find out the answers during our visit. Well my team members were all former internationlly well known bankers, I was shy to speak up among them. Also I had to blame the English of the Turkish guide because I could hardly understood what she said. Another reason could be I lack of an understanding of the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Refugee Lunch at the Topkapi Palace
As we were hungry, our boss decided to announce the results after lunch. I was glad to know that but upset afterwards as I had to walk for another 30 minutes to the restaurant at the Topkapi Palace. My goodness, I need a cab to take me there, but there was none. Thesw walking tours were about to kill me. With a pair of painful legs, the lunch became very unacceptable.

Our company offsites were famous for being extremely luxury. How come we were offered a fast food lunch at a refugee camp kind of restaurant? Well it could be the best restaurant at the Topkapi Palace. Who knows?

The brief visit to the Topkapi Palace after lunch did not offer much interest to me. Again partially because I don't know the Ottoman history and partially because there were really no great things to see. Perhaps I have seen too many great palaces in Britain and the 86-carat diamond here was not comparable to that of the 530-carat of the Queen's in London.

After lunch, Peter announced the results. There were complaints of course. May was the head of the complaint team. One thing raised by Peter the trainer, was quite worth considering. He said "Win is win; lose is lose. In real life, there is no way that we can ask clients why we lose, as they are not obliged to tell us. We just have to accept failure as a matter of life. There are chances to fail no matter how good we do. What's the most important is that we do our best". Something similar to 'rule of no rule'. Was this the training message that our boss meant to get across?

Tile/Carpet Tour

Our walking tour ended at last around 4pm. I was so glad to be transferred to our shopping tour by a van. We had to choose between a tile shop and a carpet shop. I decided to go to the tile shop. I must say the handicrafts there were very nice. I spent 37,500,000 Turkish Lira for a 4"x4" ceramic tile coaster. Yes, 37.5 million, but I think they've adjust the exchange rate now to make life easier. The money I spent was actaully around HK$200 (US$25.6).

The tired day of walking tours finished at last with a Turkish themed dinner at a prison-like restaurant, in terms of lighting, setting and everything. Unfotunately I had to walk back to the Four Seasons. Poor me, this was my most unpleasant day at Istanbul.

Anna's Amazing Journeys - Walking Tour at Istanbul

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Training at The Spice Market, Istanbul

Our first training challenge was held at the Spice Market. That morning, I thought people at the market all noticed that there were groups of multi-national trainees running madly within the market, doing similar activities and bargaining badly.

Anna at the Spice Market, Istanbul

Rule of ‘No Rule’
We were divided into five groups each accompanied by a local Turkish guide. Each group had a same set of shopping list and to-do list. We were required to complete both with the minimum amount of money and within the given time frame. Peter F told us, the group which completed all the tasks with the least money will win. That was the only rule of the game. Apart from that, there was practically ‘no rule’.

Team Challenge Task List
The team challenge required us to do all these:
- Fortune telling with a rabbit
- Buy tea tree oil
- Buy candies
- Buy a belly dance bell
- Request a shop owner to drink apple tea and take a photo with us
- And many others….

As the project involved money, Charlotte volunteered to be the treasurer (using her own money). Michael and Gavin planned the route and of course our guide Etem gave us advices. Satoko became the lead purchaser. Last but not the least, I became the photographer. I have been working with Satoko for five years, but never realized that she was such a great bargainer. I was really shocked by her excellent bargaining skills and persistency. Supported by her two male assistants, I thought that we really did a great job.

Violating the ‘Rule of No Rule’
While we reported our results and the money spent, Peter F announced the results and every one of us seemed to be happy. Our group was the second runner up. However after a while, I heard some complaints when we exchanged experience of how to get our tasks done. May raised her hand and protested against the winning team because they bribed the shop owner to give them the tea tree oil free, claiming that they’ll give him something free in return the next day. However there was ‘no rule’ to violate as Peter’s only rule was the least money spent will determine the winner. When leaving the Spice Market, we all became unhappy about the ‘rule of no rule’.

More team challenges in Istanbul to come.

Anna's Amazing Journeys - Training at the Spice Market, Istanbul

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Heading To Four Season Istanbul

Our next luxury offsite destination was Istanbul, Turkey. Actually, on the itinerary, we also visited Izmir and London in the same trip.

Weather Information
Weather forecast over the internet might not be completely reliable. We departed at late September. Many weather websites forecasted 11-25°C. However I was shocked when the pilot reported 32°C just before landing. I got a whole suitcase of wrong clothing. Well, I had to spend money in buying some T-shirts quickly.

Four Seasons Istanbul

As usual, we always go luxury in terms of hotel. This time we checked in to the 5-star Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet. It was located somewhere nearby historial sites, very convenient for us to visit the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sofia and so on. The building itself was quite Middle Eastern style.

The service team here was really efficient. My roommate didn't feel well, they managed to arrange a doctor to come and see her in an hour, just before we checked out. That was really impressive. In fact, Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet enjoys extremely high rating at TripAdvisor.

Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet

Turning Ottoman Heritages Into Training Sites
This year we still have Peter F onboard to be our trainer. Unlike in Africa last year, we moved the training outdoor and made use of the Ottoman heritages as our training sites. This time the training was quite luxury as our company had arranged a jackpot of US$25,000 for the winners of the various training challenges. Well, this was encouraging however discouraging too. I’ll tell you why.

- Spice Market
- Blue Mosque
- Haghia Sophia
- Topkapi Palace
- Ottoman Party

Other Turkish Activities
Ephesus, Izmir
Carpet Tour
Turkish Bath

My next post will report how our luxury trainings and meetings went.

Anna's Amazing Journeys - Arriving into Istanbul, Turkey

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ulusaba Game Drive – Animal Showcase

We have two game drives daily. Everyday we met different animals. The rangers and trackers seem to know where these animals are. So we never come back with zero results.

The Snake Puzzle
One day, on our way to the bush breakfast, the other jeep of colleagues just stop in front of us looking at a green snake on a tree. We were scared especially with the big opened mouth and the red tongue. However Carl, the other jeep’s ranger didn’t seem to be afraid at all and was trying to suppress the snake. All at a sudden people were laughing. It was a fake one, it was Leon’s plastic snake! I started to realize that it was the one that Leon wore at the annual dinner last night. It was such a joke, we were all teased by the colleagues of the other jeep. Anyway, it was amusing, a plastic snake in the wild on a tree, did look real.

Mini Owl On A Midnight Tree
You can’t imagine how a man while driving can spot a tiny creature hiding in the dense leaves of a tree after dark by only listening to its voice. Saly got lost, Lawrence grip the spot light and found it. It was so small, just 15cm tall, the world’s smallest owl.

Animal Showcase
After so many game drives, I got mixed up with animals from the antelopes family. To me kudo, duiker, nyala and waterbuck all look the same. But Lawrence and Janet can name them immediately. Well, a matter of experience. For people like us living in a city, it is difficult for us to identify the animals. But for people living in a game reserve, animals are just like their friends. We can identify our friends, can’t we?

I have also asked Lawrence if he ever had to vaccinate against Yellow Fever. He said ‘never’, neither do anybody at Ulusaba Game Reserve. They also never have to use mosquito repellant. Well, they live there, may got immune.
Here is a short list of the animals that I met over the few days at Ulusaba Game Reserve. Without reading the names, see how many you can identify. Again, my mini camera didn’t produce good photos, so I’ve borrowed these photos from Wiki.

Animals from the Antelopes Family

Duiker Impala
Nyala Waterbuck

Other Animals We Met at Ulusaba

Book cover preview from Anna's private collection

Ulusaba Private Game Reserve - South Africa
Anna's Amazing Journeys