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Volunteering on vacation in st Maarten

I love volunteering. It is a simple and amazing way to give back to your community and to help others, especially those in need.

Volunteering is giving your time and effort towards good causes. It doesn’t have to take all of your day, it could be a few hours in the weekend, and that goes such a long way.

My favourite events that I volunteer to help with, are those held for children. I have always enjoyed working with children and this even led me to become a teacher. I especially love working with children with special needs.  While you’re helping others, you’re also learning something new,  utilizing your skill-set, talking to people and working as part of a team towards a common goal.

While vacationing in St. Maarten, in March this year, I noticed an organization called SXM DOET advertising a weekend of island wide events to give back to the community and a call for volunteers. Naturally I contacted them and just like that- I had an opportunity to volunteer with senior citizens. The weekend event was packed with fun activities.

On the first day, I accompanied the seniors on an island tour, which allowed me to also learn and experience the island in a way I hadn’t before!

I had a great time in wonderful company, as I listened to their stories about how the island was in their youthful days.

The next day, there was a Fun Day Barbecue at a local picnic spot. I brought my teenage sister with me to help and it was her first time volunteering. My volunteer team set up seating and food service areas, decorated, served food and started games for the seniors and their families to play. It was an amazing day!

After all the dancing and games, I somehow ended up giving foot massages to two of the old ladies and we relaxed together and chatted. I met some amazing people that weekend, and I will make sure to look them up the next time I am on the island.

They really do appreciate this because as people age, their joints can become more stiff and painful, and a simple massage would help ease that discomfort. The simple truth is that many older folks are really in need of some good company and the visits give them something to look forward to.

Volunteering can be great quality time away from work and a busy life, because the focus shifts from you and onto making someone’s life better and more fulfilling, which is even more necessary if they are less fortunate.

It has been my experience that volunteer work also allows you to enhance your own self-development in ways you may never have thought of.  You can gain confidence and self esteem by working with your team of volunteers to help others. It gives you a chance to meet new friends, be more outspoken and learn more about your community

Helping others always feels good. You don’t have to give money. Giving your time and energy is usually even more appreciated!

 

Hameln- Travels to a fairy tale town

In Germany, there is a REAL town of Hameln, the setting of the fairy-tale, the Pied Piper, which just so happens to be one of my most memorable fairy tales as a child. I was always an avid reader as a child and I truly loved that tale.

As the story goes, in 1284, the town of Hameln was overrun with rats, so as a solution, they hired a rat-catcher to lure the rats away from the village. This man wore colorful “pied” clothing and walked through the village, playing his flute, luring the rats away with his song. He was successful, but the mayor refused to pay him for his services, cheating him out of the promised reward. A year later, the pied piper returned while the adults were in church and in revenge, played his magic flute and lured the children of the village away, never to be seen again.

In one version of the tale, it is said that the children were lured into a mountain cave. Another version has a different ending: the children were led to a river, where they drowned.

Dark, right? Despite that, I always wondered what it would be like to be in a real fairy-tale town and as an adult, my dream came true.

I visited the town of Hameln, in Germany!

As I walked through the streets of the town; my eyes wide like an excited child’s, as I took everything in, I was in awe of the dreamy feeling the town manifested.

From the cobblestone streets, the buildings …everything looked as if I were staring at a storybook page … except I was there…in real life and I imagined what it was like back in that time of the fairy-tale, and I started thinking about the different people who like me had walked up and down these narrow streets, centuries before.

Many other tourists and locals walked past me on the streets, taking photos and looking at the famous architecture. The houses were still in pristine condition and I wondered what the interior looked like, whether they were even more beautiful on the inside and when were they all built.

In a prominent position in the town square, a statue caught my attention, and lo and behold!

It was him, the Pied Piper!

I tried to hold in my excitement as I examined the statue that stood proudly on a fountain, but like the true tourist I was, I could not help but to take as many photos as possible, needing to document this amazing discovery.

Near to the statue, is a famous church in the town square with an inscription on the stained glass window which states:

In the year 1284 after the birth of Christ
From Hameln were led away
One hundred thirty children, born at this place
Led away by a piper into a mountain.”

The inscription was made to remember the terrible tragedy, I realised and as I continued my exploration, I found that near the statue, was the Pied Piper House, which also bore an inscription about the incident. For me, it was blatant proof that this “fairy-tale” was actually real!

Something that I had believed was the imaginings of a wonderful writer may indeed be based on a real life story, which only made me love the town even more.

Hameln became famous centuries ago due to the fairy-tale and today there are museums, cafes and souvenir shops in the town square, which boost tourism even more. Every day, the locals put on an open-air play depicting the Pied Piper tale with colorful costumes and it is a one of a kind, amazing experience.

Another attraction is the “glockenspiel” which is a large clock at the top of the church that plays a mechanical ballet, three times a day. The bronze doors of the clock open and show figurines of the Piper, rats and children while the chimes play the Pied Piper song.

I highly recommend visiting Hameln for a truly unforgettable historic experience. Every step I took through the Altstadt (Old town) was a step back in time, into the storybook that forever exists in my mind.

It was more amazing and picturesque than I ever believed it could be. Now I want to explore other fairy-tale towns and walk through old castles and feed my inner child some magical adventures!

Toronto to Iceland – top 5 places to visit

Visiting Iceland is at the top of my bucket list. The hot springs, volcanoes, and of course, the Northern lights. It’s one of those countries that looks serene and quaint, despite tourism being one of their largest sources of revenue. Airfare costs are usually pretty cheap, as are hotels and tours.

Travellers can either sign up for a guided tour or self-guided tours that include car rental, GPS, and lodgings. Self-guided tours are great because you can also prepare your own personal stops in between the recommended attractions.

Here are the top five things to do while hitting up a self-guided tour of Iceland:

Blue Lagoon: This is a popular destination, which means it may be a bit crowded. Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa with a breathtaking view. Enjoy some time in one of the heated springs or relax under a waterfall. Visitors an also sign up for other spa services like massages, silica mud masks, or saunas. For this attraction, remember to book early. The lines can be a bit lengthy, and if you are able to swing it, choose as many private options as possible.

Horseback riding: Horses roam the hillsides freely, but there are a few that tourists can ride on guided tours of the area. These animals are well kept and not overworked. Guides will follow trails that show off Iceland’s most serene landscapes, including rivers and mountains. This activity only has incredibly reviews from TripAdvisor, with most participants saying the trip was “magical”.

Glaciers and waterfalls: Despite climate change, Iceland still has a number of large glaciers and waterfalls to explore. Glaciers are made when ice and snow accumulate over centuries. They are large, beautiful structures and the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, as the locations are rather remote. Tour groups offer a number of guided hikes and climbs through these glaciers for people of various skill sets.

Explore a volcano: There are a number of volcanoes throughout Iceland, and the country takes advantage of these phenomenons and offers tours of each region. Don’t worry, they are not active. For those who want a bird’s eye view, there are helicopter rides available that fly over a few volcanoes and lava fields. For those who want are more active tour, take a 3k hike through Thrihnukagigur, a volcano located between Reykjavik and the Golden Circle area. The tour will take you through caverns right into the heart of the dormant volcano!

Skaftafell Park: This park is 4800 square kilometres and home to some of the most surreal landscapes in Iceland. Pick one of the many trails and enjoy views of waterfalls, fields, mountains, and glaciers — all within one park. Make sure to check out the Scartifoss (Black fall), a waterfall that flows off black basalt columns. Nature lovers can actually camp overnight within the park!

Have you visited Iceland? What are your suggestions? Let us know in the comments below!

Woman of the Week: Emily Ridout

Sometimes an idea just comes to you. In fact, it calls to you — and it can’t go unanswered.

That’s what Emily Ridout said when Women’s Post asked her why she started 889Yoga, a yoga and wellness studio on Yonge Street in Toronto. For her, it was about bringing the practices she learned during her travels to the city she loved.

“Toronto didn’t have that yet. It was missing and we wanted to create that in our own city. A place where people could feel very comfortable to go on this path to healing and returning to who they really are, in a space that was clean, beautiful, and accessible”

889 is a quaint little studio located near Rosedale. The storefront is full of essential oils, juices, journals, candles and teas, in addition to props used for yoga, pilates, and meditation. As you head upstairs to the studio, the smell of white tea is unmistakeable. Class participants are free to enjoy a glass of water or cup of tea before and after their session. The studio itself is bright with lots of windows that allow the sun to shine in. It’s the kind of place that automatically relaxes you and breaks down barriers.

The studio has a very loyal following. As one member said, once you take a class at 889, “you’ll fall in love with it”. Newcomers are welcomed with a smile and instructors are patient with everyone, no matter their skill level. The ultimate goal is for people to feel comfortable and at peace — and in that, 889 is very successful.

“We are a beginner/intermediate studio,” Ridout said. “If you haven’t tried it, it’s very welcoming, kind, forgiving, and that is what we set out for. “

Ridout comes from a family of entrepreneurs, but decided to venture into academics instead. She studied commerce with a minor in French. Eventually, she dropped commerce and focused all her energy on linguistics.

Her first job following her graduate degree was with Butterfield and Robinson, a company that designs and runs tourist expeditions, mainly involving hiking and biking around the world.  Ridout started as a receptionist, eventually applying for a temp job in operations working on trips outside of Europe. Shortly after she became Expeditions Trip Manager, helping plan and coordinate trips, as well as acting as communication liaison with the guides overseas.

Ridout loves to travel herself. She spent a year in Spain learning the language and culture. It was actually in Barcelona where she took her first official yoga class, mostly as a way to make friends and use her beginner Spanish. At the same time, her sister Christine was also introduced to yoga during her travels to California and Los Angeles. They eventually got together and realized a passion had been ignited.

The goal wasn’t just to create a yoga studio, but rather a place of wellness, where Torontonians could experience what the Ridout sisters experienced during their travels. What’s unique about this venture was that neither sister was a trained instructor — just entrepreneurs with a vision.

“We wanted to own a business, run the business, and create a space where people can heal, do yoga and be at peace. Look at themselves from an internal point,” she said. “And we did it! We hired teachers. We hired healing professionals. We had no experience at all. It was just a calling. “

And that was about 10 years ago.  Since then, 889 has grown immensely, while still maintaining its foundation — to inspire happy, healthy, and peaceful lives. Ridout likes to say the studio is a reflection of how both sisters have evolved. They helped create and plan a 200-hour Living Yoga School, a program that transforms yoga lovers into capable instructors. Both sisters have taken this course and are now able to teach yoga as well as meditation classes.

They have also added a storefront that sells environmentally-conscious and Canadian-focused products and are teaching a number of private classes for moms and other women that combine essential oils with meditation and breathing work. Ridout is also designing a digital platform for these programs, especially for working moms with little time to come to the studio.

Her biggest piece of advice to women entrepreneurs is to simplify, and then simplify some more. “Keep the offer as simple and clear as you can. If you think its simple enough, break it down again. It makes it simpler for people to understand and get on board.”

Ridout also wants women to focus on something they are passionate about, something that lights you up when you talk about it. “There is enough room in the world for us all to do what we believe in and do what we love. If someone else is doing it, or doing something similar, there will always be your authentic version of it.”

“If you believe in something, create it and sell it. Don’t get discouraged by people who are already “doing” your idea, or something similar, or by a fear that you’re not good enough.”

Ridout has three children, who she says help keep her present and joyful.  She is currently working through “May Cause Miracles”, a 40-day guide to reflection, change, and happiness by Gabrielle Bernstein, for the second time.

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