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I Know Where I’ve Been: All Over The Place, As It Seems

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Travelogues are nothing new in the realm of literature. Ever since the dawn of the written word, there have been innumerable people who want to tell the stories of faraway places they may or may not have visited. Marco Polo was just only the most visible one; there was many who came before him, and many who sought to imitate him afterwards. In fact, one of the first modern satires, Gulliver’s Travels, was written under the thin veneer of being a parody of “traveller’s tales”. So in the age of social media, the concept of the travelogue might seem as dated as the rotary phone.

Which leads to Robert Coles’ I Know Where I’ve Been: A Year-Long Journey of Self-Discovery, a new type of spectrum-friendly travelogue. Though he notes of occasional trips to Mexico and Colombia, most of the travels documents are in the United States and Canada. More specifically, it detailed his travels throughout 2015 and the connections that he had made in the process of reaching his goal of visiting 30 cities by the end of the year. In between the stories about random adventures and quirky friends/lovers are a series of sober reflections on not only his life but also the lives of those around him.

It is in these reflections that one can find the emotional core of I Know Where I’ve Been, and certainly makes it stand out from the standard travelogue. These include stories of his family (specifically of his dad, who died of a heart attack at 53) as well as past lovers (such as “Josh”, with whom he had a fun but ill-fated relationship). It also informs the reader of Coles’ mentality about travel, as his family was not able to travel very much, save for the occasional trip to Disney World or a place like Yellowstone. In a household like that with a person like Coles turned out to be, it is no wonder that he turned out to be such a major traveler. And of course, his sexuality does play an important role at certain moments, including an experience with those with a homophobic bent. Specifically, it first comes to a head when a seemingly nice Christian family turns on him with a vengeance when one of its members catches him looking up certain explicit files downloaded from Limewire.  

Of course, the travel stories in I Know Where I’ve Been themselves do stand out in their own right, which is an important part of a work in this genre. And unlike many popular travelogues, there is a tinge of emotional honesty to most of them, which makes it akin to a mix of An Idiot Abroad and Michael Palin’s Around The World In 80 Days in literary form. Coles does not shy away from the horror stories, such as the Airbnb fiasco in Chicago or a miserable night on the bad side of Detroit. Nor does he leave out some of the stranger things, such as the night in Detroit being followed by a slightly unnerving passport check at the Canadian border. Nor does he gloss over several of the tales of him and his company going on full-blown benders, with the results akin to a remake of The Hangover on a college film fest budget.

However, the experiences throughout his 2015 in I Know Where I’ve Been come out as a net positive, especially with all of the people he met. Standouts include the “Denver Death Tour”, the visits to the Second City improv venue, and visiting Toronto ’s famous CN Tower. Perhaps the most accurate statement by Coles is the following: “While I certainly regret some of the behaviors and wish I could erase some of the memories, I wouldn’t change who I am today because of them.” It is likely the reader will share the same sentiment by the end.

Originally posted 2017-07-30 10:04:24.

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Harry Potter and the Search for the Wizarding World in the UK

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I’m certain that about 70% of people in their twenties are still waiting on their Hogwarts acceptance letter (and viewing every owl they see with suspicion), so I’ve run down the five best places in the UK for curious muggles to scope out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Harry Potter series, but I mean… the last movie came out in 2011… you should be caught up by now.

Platform 9 ¾: Kings Cross Station, London , England

Courtesy of JoJo-Bean/Flickr

We’ve come a long way since Harry Potter first arrived at King’s Cross and the entrance the Hogwarts Express platform is now marked with a sign for Muggle-born first years or those who are travelling without their parents.

Right beneath the sign, is a luggage cart that is stuck in the wall which cannot be removed with any Muggle tools; many suggest that this is, in fact, the work of notorious prankster George Weasley. Rumour has it that if any Muggle is able to move the cart, they’ll be awarded an honorary certificate from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but as of yet, no one has achieved this.

This spot on our Harry Potter tour is completely free to visit and you can pose for photos with the luggage cart wearing a Gryffindor scarf before visiting the Harry Potter-themed shop to purchase your very own wand and robes.

Hogwarts Express: The Jacobite Steam Engine, Fort William, Scotland

Courtesy of 96tommy/Wikimedia

For those who don’t manage to slip through the barrier at King’s Cross, there is another way onto the Hogwarts Express and all it requires is a short trip up to Scotland.

Here in Fort William, you can board the Jacobite Steam Engine (Hogwarts Express), ride on the Mallaig route which will take you over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, also known as The Bridge to Hogwarts.

Although you won’t meet the Trolley Witch (she only rides the train with the students), you can enjoy high tea aboard the train (they prefer pounds sterling to Galleons).

Please note: This route will not drop Muggles at Hogwarts because, for them, Hogwarts does not exist. In order to deter unwanted visitors, Headmistress Minerva McGonagall cast a spell on the school buildings so that they appear to be dotted around the country rather than all in one place.

Hogwarts Castle: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, England

Courtesy of Richard Croft/Geograph

This Northumberland castle is the exterior of Hogwarts, and it is in these very gardens where Harry Potter rode a broomstick for the very first time, catching the attention of Flying Instructor Madam Hooch and Gryffindor Quidditch Captain Oliver Wood to become the school’s youngest seeker in a century.

Here you can take an on location tour of the Hogwarts grounds but remember not to venture off into the Forbidden Forest. It’s strictly off-limits.

Hogwarts Library: Duke Humphrey’s Library, Oxford University

If you’d prefer to read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with Hermione, then perhaps a visit to Oxford University would be more your cup of tea. Here you can explore Hogwarts Library and the Infirmary, located in the 15th Century Divinity School, on the same guided tour. Just stay out of the Restricted Section and don’t drink the Skele-Gro.

The visitors’ entrance to the Ministry of Magic: Great Scotland Yard, London

Courtesy of Shazz/Wikimedia

For those curious about the Wizarding World outside of Hogwarts, I recommend visiting the Ministry of Magic but obviously they won’t let muggles inside (with the possible exception of the Prime Minister)…sorry about that.

Although you won’t be able to find the phone booth that wizards use to enter, as it’s under an invisibility spell, you can still stop outside the visitor’s entrance and see if you can spot an Auror leaving work for the day. Bonus: if you visit in 2019, you may even spot then-Minister for Magic, Hermione Granger.

What do you think of the list? What other locations would you include?

If you’ve visited any of these locations, then let me know in the comments and share your pictures.

Originally posted 2017-08-01 11:32:25.

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Housesitting – A fun and cost-effective way to travel the world

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Housesitting is a growing phenomenon worldwide. A hacienda in Mexico. A houseboat in Amsterdam . A luxury apartment in London . These are just a few of the exotic locations where you could find yourself as a house-sitter.

The concept works both ways. It’s a fantastic solution for animal lovers who are looking for an alternative to the high cost of vacation accommodation. Alternatively, it’s perfect for homeowners who require pet care while they are away from home. Both parties benefit, and the pet is probably the biggest winner of all.

My partner and I have been housesitting for over five years. We gave up our office jobs when we decided we wanted a change of lifestyle. Travel was very much on the agenda. Our first adventure took us to India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. After a wonderful six months, we returned to the UK. We had no ties and decided that we wanted to continue to travel. We both love animals and thought we would try to incorporate housesitting into our new lifestyle.

A winter house sit in Toronto

Our first house sit was in our hometown of Brighton, UK. We took care of an adorable pooch double act called Snoop and Biscuit. Following that, we headed to Toronto, where we lived in a bungalow by Lake Ontario for five months with a lovely cat. We followed it with a month backpacking in Mexico. Since then we haven’t looked back. We house sit and backpack around the world, meeting a wide range of delightful people and their pets.

We have made many friends all over the world since we began our housesitting career and have carried out lots of repeat sits. Without housesitting, we would never have been able to afford to visit some of the far-flung countries that we have.

Anyone who has a beloved pet knows how hard it can be when it comes to vacations. Kennels and catteries don’t generally provide the level of attention and care that a dog or cat is accustomed to. Many pets don’t like leaving the comfort and security of their own home and find a change of routine traumatic. Some pet owners even choose not to go on vacation to avoid having to deal with the situation.

One of our regulars, Paulie, in Brighton, UK

Having a house-sitter means that pet owners can go away and enjoy their vacation safe in the knowledge that someone responsible and caring will be taking care of things in their absence. Additionally, having someone in their property while they are away makes sense from a security perspective. On top of all that, they don’t have any pet-care bills to pay.

The advantages to the house-sitter are numerous. The major benefit is not having to pay for accommodation, a huge saving. Having a kitchen makes it possible for the house-sitter to prepare food, consequently spending less on eating out. The house-sitter can become part of the community and enjoy the comforts of home. A very different experience to staying in a soulless hotel room.

So, how do you get started? We began by looking after the pets of friends. Every time we did a cat visit or looked after a dog, we would ask for a reference. Slowly, but surely, we built up a portfolio of recommendations. We also had a police check carried out, an easy procedure, which gives peace of mind to the property owner. We then registered with a housesitting website, and before we knew it were receiving requests to housesit all over the world. Trustedhousesitters at https://www.trustedhousesitters.com is one of the largest international housesitting websites and offers global opportunities.

While backpacking in Guatemala, we did two house sits in the beautiful city of Antigua

Most house sitters are happy to offer their services in exchange for the opportunity to stay somewhere rent free. Occasionally the property owner will request that the cost of utility bills are met, especially on longer-term sits. In all of the house-sits carried out, we have only had to pay for bills on one occasion. It is up to both parties to come to an agreement.

In addition to pet care, the sitters are often responsible for receiving mail, watering plants and sometimes a little garden maintenance. Needless to say, the property should be kept in a clean and tidy condition for the owner’s return.

We have stayed in all types of properties from a multi-million-dollar house complete with swimming pool and steam room to a modest one bedroom apartment. Although we tend to limit ourselves to looking after cats and dogs, we have come across llamas, rats, snakes, donkeys and even an ocelot requiring care! Occasionally, a housesit is pet-free, the owner wanting housesitters purely for security purposes, although this type of sit is in the minority.

Enjoying the company of Daisy and Blue

All kinds of people housesit. Some, like us, are full timers. These days, many are digital nomads who work location independently. Others housesit occasionally. Families and retired couples often prefer  to stay in a more homely environment, saving money at the same time. The one thing everyone has in common is a love of animals.

Housesitting has opened up a world of opportunities to us and enabled us to meet a host of characters, human and animal. We have been privileged to have an insight into different cultures and ways of life.

Check out https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YMIYQ7Qg3BM to find out about the experiences of LGBTQ house-sitters. Whether you want to travel the globe or you require some loving care for your pet whilst away, housesitting could be the answer you are looking for!

Snoop and Biscuit – a cute double act!

Originally posted 2017-07-31 17:11:42.

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Dismantling Myths: How LGBTQ Stereotypes Abrogate Progress

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With any group of people there exists stereotypes. Stereotypes within marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ community, are especially harmful as they add to the misconceptions that certain individuals have which adds to the negative perceptions that people spread. So, what are some of these stereotypes? Let’s read on.

Gay men are much more promiscuous than straight men and don’t want monogamous relationships. 

This stereotype came about during the AIDS crisis during the 1980s when a larger-than-average amount of gay men contracted HIV/AIDS. This led to people thinking that AIDS is a gay disease and because it mostly affected the gay community, many people thought that gay men slept around more than straight men. This stereotype serves to “other” gay men which hurts the effort to reach equality for the LGBTQ community. However, this is, thankfully, just a myth. According to Statisticbrain, 57% of men admitted to committing infidelity in any relationships they’ve had. This shows that promiscuity is not really a gay problem, but a human problem.

Lesbian relationships consist of the butch-femme dichotomy.

Some lesbian relationships consist of butch and feminine individuals but not all. Many lesbians believe that they do not have to adopt specific gender roles to express their love for their partner (but we shouldn’t pass judgment on women who are in butch-femme relationships!) Some people believe that women are lesbians because they can’t get a man and, because of that, some have to adopt the role of the man. This is harmful in that it delegitimizes lesbian relationships by trying to enforce traditional heterosexual roles in homosexual relationships.

Lesbians are only lesbians because they’ve had a traumatic experience with a man

I don’t really understand this one. Some people are ridiculous (and incorrect)! Studies show that both heterosexual and homosexual women have had about the same amount of traumatic experiences, proving that traumatic experiences with men did not have anything to do with the formation of homosexuality in women.

A child needs a mother and a father or else they will grow up with psychological problems

This one is one of my favorites because it’s easy to debunk with a quick Google search. According to the journal Social Science Research vol. 53, children raised by same-sex parents experience no difference compared to children raised by a mother and a father.

Children who were raised by same-sex parents will become gay

Even if that were true, I can’t really find a problem with that… Anyway, according to the American Psychological Association, being raised by same-sex children does not have any effect on the development of one’s sexuality. Plus, if I may use anecdotal evidence, my heterosexual mother gave birth to three little Hinkles and two out of the three turned out to be gay.

Gay men are effeminate

This one is probably the most common stereotype. Many people believe that because gay men are not attracted to women, they must not be a “normal” man and, as such, act like women (whatever that means). It is definitely true that some gay men are effeminate (and there’s nothing wrong that), gay men are not one collective entity and, because of that, tend to not all think and act alike. There are gay men who are feminine, there are gay men who are masculine, gender non-conforming, tall, short, thin, large… you get the picture. It is simply not true that all gay men are effeminate and instead are a diverse group much like heterosexual men, who can be effeminate as well.

Bisexuals are more likely to cheat in relationships because they’re attracted to both men and women

If you know any bisexual people, you know that this isn’t true. According to a study by Psychology Today, 78% of the men and 67% of the women in the study were in a serious monogamous relationship, engaged, or married.

All groups experience stereotypes which can be extremely hurtful and downright dangerous. However, marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ community stand to lose a lot more from stereotypes than other people. It is important that people get educated on how stereotypes affect groups. Understanding that stereotypes do not represent an entire group is one the first steps in battling bigotry, leading to a more equal society.

 

Originally posted 2017-07-31 10:12:31.

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