Nearly every city has a station and most of them are served by trains multiple times per day. On domestic routes many trains run hourly if not more often.
You see more than just clouds or the dirty back of a semi-truck. You experience the beauty of Europe first hand. From the train you see the lush green hills, the colorful cities and the quaint countryside.
No hassle at the borders
Rail passengers no longer have their identity checked by border guards when crossing borders of the Schengen countries. Random security checks still occur though.
When you choose to travel by train through Europe, you choose a mode of transportation that pollutes far less than most others.
There are few things in the world better than a child’s smile. That non-jaded, pure joy, utterly happy kind of smile that radiates deep in your core. The only thing better than that smile is knowing you are the reason for that. I experienced this kind of smile this past November while volunteering in Koh Phra Thong, Thailand.
The small village of Koh Phra Thong was destroyed by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2006. The lives of these people were forever altered, as families lost loved ones, their possessions and their livelihood. The one thing the tsunami did not take was their resilient spirit. Despite enduring unfathomable hardship, the people of Koh Phra Thong steadfastly endeavored in rebuilding their community and with the help of STA Travel, were able to do that.
By 2011, an entirely new village in Koh Phra Thong was built, with new homes, a new school as well as a new community center. I was fortunate enough to be there to add the final touches to the community center before the big grand opening. We spent a week building, painting, gardening and working with the local children to make sure the community center was built just for them. We capped off the week with a giant celebration with the entire village. We feasted on traditional Thai dishes, gave tours of the new center and danced till dawn with the village children.
Seeing the gratitude and happiness on their faces is why I volunteer.
I spent an entire week with one of the biggest cats on the planet. It is amazing how big they are even at 15 months. For how intimidating they can be at first, they’re just teenagers. It was an invaluable experience watching them socialize and hunt while you are just a few yards away!
The project itself is in Livingstone, Zambia. I was able to go on numerous lion walks with the cubs. The lion cubs ranged from 14 – 16 months in age. I was able to experience and monitor all sorts of behavior patterns that the cubs exhibited including stalking prey and how they interact with each other. As a volunteer, I was able to help in so many ways including anti-poaching snare sweeps, conservation seminars at local schools, assisting the Zimbabwe breeding program, elephant monitoring, aiding ‘Lion Encounters’ and so much more.
The project also supports the local community, as many of the projects handlers are from the local villages. This experience will forever help shape who I am, the way I live, the choices I make and the path I will take next.
As I stepped off the plane in Cape Town, the warm summer air hit my face and utter disbelief set in. I was in South Africa. I shuffled through baggage claim wondering what I was doing. I set off to participate in a volunteer project, but I don’t think I had any idea what that actually meant, or how it would change me.
My volunteer coordinator, Kate, from African Impact took me on an introductory drive through the Cape to show me where I would be working. Helping teachers in a pre-school in Masiphumelele, painting a wall in Oceanview, providing some much needed assistance at a pre-school in Redhill, feeding children before school in Capricorn, and playing with kids at a safe house in Noordhoek. My eyes were opened to the warmth of the people and the need in the Western Cape.
I read books, taught classes, wiped noses, and painted very straight lines and magical flowers. I danced and sang, broke-up fights, pushed swings, and raced spare tires. But really I met people, like Jackie, a 4-year-old from Masiphumelele. At first, you saw a little girl who would pick fights with the boys and rip kids from swings. Then you noticed at snack time she didn’t have anything, and then at naptime she gave the sweetest hugs and that tough exterior melted away. Uncle Donovan is the man who runs a safe house for 15 children almost entirely on his own. He was once a wealthy man, but then saw the need to provide a safe place for children to live. The government only supports six, but he doesn’t care about the financial burden. He only sees the precious lives he’s saving.
At the end of the week the disbelief set back in, but this time it’s because I was done. Eight days is enough time to fall completely in love with the people of Cape Town, but it is not enough time to spend with them. I will miss the dirty hands and runny noses that greeted me every morning, and African time…oh how I will miss the slower, sweeter pace of life.