International Adventure Guide 2013: Stockholm, Sweden

Known as the Venice of the North, Stockholm is a city defined by water; it’s in the soul of the city’s inhabitants. Cold and icy in the winter and ready for sailing and bathing in the summer, water is as much a symbol of Stockholm as Old Town and the Royal Palace. This makes the Swedish capital the ideal hub for adventure – the chance to blend an urban center with the beauty of the outdoors.

Swedes are known for their deep connection to the outdoors. Nature is a part of Swedish literature, art, music and everyday life, and you’ll find this throughout Stockholm. From boat trips out into the Stockholm Archipelago to afternoon walks around Djurgården, Stockholm is the city for those that love the outdoors. In a time when Scandinavian culture is at the top of every travel hit list, Stockholm and its outskirts are worth an exploration for those that are looking to blend the big city with the beauty and possibility of the outdoors.

Activities

By Water
You can’t know Stockholm without exploring its waterways. For anyone that loves life on the water, there are plenty of options. The archipelago is a hub for summer sailing trips, and kayaking is another easy way to get to know the area. Renting a sailboat for a week and touring around the islands is a popular summer pastime of Swedes. If your sailing skills aren’t quite up to par, you can go on an organized sailing tour with Event Segling. An excellent way to explore the city of Stockholm is to kayak the waterways. The Stockholm Tourism Office has a list of companies that have kayak rentals in the city. You can also go out for a day in the archipelago and rent a kayak on one of the islands. Horiston Kajak offers guided tours of the archipelago, as well as rentals and help for organizing a self-guided trip. For even more water-based adventures, check out Stockholm Adventures, which organizes everything from kayak trips to hiking tours.

By Foot
Because of its many parks and the surrounding natural areas, if you like trail runs or hiking, you’ll have plenty to explore in Stockholm. Get a good feel for the city with a Waterside Jogging Tour from Stockholm Jogging Tours, which will take you around all of the central city’s well-known waterways and monuments. If you are looking for a more urban adventure, check out the guided Rooftop Tour, a combination of climbing (in harnesses of course) and sightseeing. For a slower pace, there are a variety of hiking trails easily accessible, providing the opportunity for day trips or even multi-day excursions. In the vicinity you will find Sörmlandsleden, Upplandsleden and Roslagsleden. Stockholm Adventures organizes hiking tours, but you can also take off on your own. In Sweden you are able to take advantage of Allemansrätten, the Right of Public Access. It is an important part of Swedish outdoor culture and allows you to fully explore areas, even if they are on private land.

By Bicycle
If you want to really learn how to be Swedish you will get on a bicycle because in this country, cycling is a way of life. Stockholm City Bikes is the local bike share system and allows you to use one of the bicycles for up to three hours at a time. A three-day card can be purchased for 165 SEK at various retailers around the city. If you are staying for more than three days, consider getting a season card for 300 SEK. If you want to rent your own bike instead of using the bike share system, check out Rent a Bike, located right by the water on Strandvägen. Pick up the Stockholm Bike Map from the tourist office or the department store NK and you will have a good guide to exploring the city. There’s also a digital version you can use to find a route from point A to point B. For guided tours, check out the following companies:

  • Bike Sweden – Bike tours in the city and in the archipelago. They also do multi-day trips starting at 2390 SEK/person, including lodging.
  • Guide Stockholm – Guided bike tours of Djurgården.
  • Stockholm Adventures – Stockholm on Two Wheels Tour, a tour of all the classic Stockholm sites for 300 SEK/person.

Hotspots

Lidingö
Home of Lidingöloppet, an annual 30-kilometer run around the island that’s popular for Stockholm residents that want a dose of the countryside. It’s also home to Långängen-Elfvik National Park, which has 125 acres of open farmland and also houses one of the largest old farms, Elfviks Farm, which is still functioning today. In the winter the island is home to both cross country skiing trails and long distance ice skating routes, and in the summer it’s a hotspot for anyone interested in being close to the water.

Skärgården – Stockholms Archipelago
Stockholm’s Archipelago is made up of approximately 30,000 islands and islets, meaning there is more than enough to explore. Some of the most popular islands are Vaxholm, Sandhamnm, Grinda and Utö. The easiest way to access the archipelago is by ferry. Waxholmsbolaget runs an extensive network of boat services to many of the bigger islands. Visit Skärgården is the archipelago’s own tourist bureau and a good resource for planning a trip to the islands. The Right to Public Access allows you the right to pitch a tent in public places, so for a budget adventure, bring your accommodations with you and sleep on a beach by the water.

Hellasgården
A 20-minute trip from Slussen, Hellasgården is an outdoor area that’s full of bike paths, hiking and running trails, swimming areas and even beach volleyball courts. In the winter you’ll find ice-skating as well as cross-country skiing trails. After a day on the snow you can go sit in the sauna for 60 SEK/person as well. From Slussen, take buss 401 to Hellasgården I Älta, or take subway line 17 towards Skarpknäck and get off at Hammarbyhöjden.

Where to Stay

Af Chapman
Centrally located on the island of Skeppsholmen, Af Chapman is one of Stockholm’s most well known budget accommodations as it’s a hostel on a boat. Since you’re staying on Skeppsholmen, you’re well located for a morning run around the small island and into the city. Staying right on the water also gives you a very different feel of the city than staying in a standard hotel. Starting at 260 SEK/night.

Cabin Rentals in Stockholm’s Archipelago
If you’re looking to explore Stockholm’s archipelago for more than a few days, consider renting a cabin. There are plenty of accommodations available throughout the archipelago, on both the big and smaller islands. This gives you the chance to enjoy a summer week like a true Swede. Prices vary. www.skardgardsstugor.se

Långholmen Hostel
Renovated in 2008 the Crown Remand Prison was turned into the Långholmen Youth Hostel. Today the dorm rooms are built in old prison cells. There’s beach access to Mälaren and a jogging trail, so you get plenty of chances for fresh air while at the same time living centrally in the city. Starting at 255 SEK/night. Långholmsmuren 20. www.langholmen.com

Where to Eat

8T8
Craving raw, organic and vegetarian food? 8T8 is the place to go. An environmentally conscious restaurant and café, 8T8 has breakfast, lunch and the classic Swedish “fika” offering of a variety of goodies to go with your coffee or tea, all with raw and vegan options. Perfect for the health conscious adventurer. It’s centrally located close to Mariatorget. Swedenborsgatan 1, www.8t8.se.

Vete-katten
There is no more classic Stockholm café than Vete-katten. This is the place to go for a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll or a freshly baked scone. During the summer months you can even sit in the inner courtyard to get a dose of sunshine. Kungsgatan 55. www.vetekatten.se

Café Panorama
Located on the top floor of Stockholm’s centrally located Kulturhuset, Café Panorama offers simple Scandinavian fare in a classic cafeteria setting with an excellent view from above the city. You can come here for a full lunch or just an afternoon coffee. www.kulturhuset.stockholm.se

Logistics

Get Around
Central Stockholm is easy to navigate by foot. For longer journeys there are buses and a subway system, as well as a bike share system from April – October. One-way tickets on public transportation within Stockholm are 12.50 SEK, and you can get a seven-day unlimited pass for 300 SEK.

Seasonality
Depending on your sport of choice, seasons in Stockholm are very different. Winter is dark and cold, but perfect for winter activities like long-distance ice skating and skiing. Stockholm even has its own downhill slopes at Hammarbybacken. For trips out to the archipelago, summer is a better bet. Many Stockholmites flock to the islands during the summer, which means that stores and cafes that are closed during the off-season come back to life. You’ll find that during the summer there are certainly more visitors to Stockholm and the surrounding areas, but the weather is ideal and you’ll get to take advantage of the long hours of daylight.

Safety
Sweden in general is a very safe place to travel. As in any big city, in and around Stockholm, be aware of your surroundings and stay street smart.

International Adventure Guide 2013: Paris, France

An adventure guide to Paris? Yes.

At first glance, Paris probably isn’t the go-to city for outdoor enthusiasts. Metros, brasseries and the Champs Elysées don’t really make the top of the list of an adventurer’s itinerary. But being the diverse and ever-changing big city that it is, there are plenty of opportunities for those travelers that like to blend their urban tours with a little bit of adventure. There are parks to explore, bike paths to navigate and even a beach to walk on barefoot in the summertime. If you thought Paris was only for the urbanite, think again.

The other benefit to exploring the City of Light through the adventure lens is that in a city that’s known for being fairly expensive, Paris’ outdoor options are actually all very budget friendly, meaning that you end up with a city visit that’s both fun and also easy on the wallet.

Ready to explore a Paris that goes beyond croissants and red wine? Allons-y!

Activities

Bike
There’s no better way to explore Paris than by bicycle. It’s not for the faint of heart though; navigating between pedestrians, Parisian traffic and adrenaline-seeking inline skaters, the urban biker has to pay sharp attention. You can plan your own route and rent a bike through the now-famous Parisian bikeshare system Vélib (read our guide on How to Ride Bike in Paris for more details, including payment options as the Vélib automated machines can be tricky with American debit and credit cards), or your can get on a guided tour. Check out the following operators, which offer a variety of tour options, as well as bike rentals if you want a more long-term bike rental than Velib allows for as the bikeshare system is intended for short distance trips.

Fat Bike Tours– American owned and operated, Fat Bike Tours was created with the English speaker in mind. If you are looking to get outside of Paris you can take them up on their Monet Garden tour. Tours start at 30€. http://fattirebiketours.com/paris

Blue Bike Tours – Blue Bike Tours is run by a French-American family, and their Hidden Paris tour will take you to all the places locals go in the neighborhoods of Saint Germain and the Marais. A true insider’s guide to the city. Tours start at 29€. http://www.bluebiketours-paris.com/

Paris Bike Tour – Paris Bike Tour offers a Seine-specific guided tour, learning about monuments and bridges along the way. Tours start at 32€.
http://www.parisbiketour.net/uk/

Run
Running has become the sport of active minded urbanites, and if you’re the kind of traveler that always packs a pair of running shoes, Paris will have plenty of options for you. A couple of tips for running in the city:

  1. Get up early. You’ll find that morning runs around 6 or 7 can be relatively quiet compared with the hustle and bustle of the rest of the day. Parisians aren’t crazy enough to get up at the crack of dawn, so if you enjoy morning runs, the city is yours.
  2. Find a park. There are plenty of parks in the city that are great for running. Don’t be afraid to get out of the city center: parks like Parc Monceau, Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes are excellent for running adventures.
  3. Hit the Seine. There’s nothing quite like a long run along the iconic Seine. Plus it makes that dinner of wine and cheese later in the day so well deserved. On Sundays some of the quays are completely closed off to cars, which attracts a lot of locals out for walks, runs and roller blading. The city has put a lot of effort into making more and more of the riverside pathways car-free, so expect to see more of this in the future.

Don’t want to plan your own route? There are running tour operators for that. Check out the following groups who can help you coordinate a complete running tour of Paris, no matter what your running level. Because these running tours are guided by experienced athletes, you’ll find the prices a little higher than regular bike or walking tours.

Paris Running Tour: Going with a group is better as it will lower your price, so grab some friends. 55-85€ per person. http://www.parisrunningtour.com/

Paris Running Tours: Tours starting at 50€. http://parisrunningtours.com/

Wellicient: Along with running tours, Wellicient also do walking, fitness and stretching tours. http://www.wellicient.com/

Roller Blading
Make all the fun you want, but rollerblading is one of this city’s favorite pastimes, and if you want a truly Parisian experience, you’ll don a set of inline skates. There’s a popular weekly nighttime roller blade excursion hosted by Pari-Roller that takes place every Friday from 10pm to 1am. It starts at Place Raoul Dutry in Montparnasse and takes a different route every week. This gives you the chance to see the city in not only a different medium of transportation, but at night as well.

On Sundays you can take part in a group ride organized by Rollers & Coquillages. Gather close to the Bastille on Boulevard Bourbon and then take off with the hundreds of other skaters to enjoy the city. This group ride is a little better suited to beginners.

Hotspots

Bois de Boulogne
On weekends, this park of over 2,000 acres is a hotspot for locals, as there are trails to run and walk on, boats to row and horses to ride. Bois de Boulogneis on the western edge of the 16th arrondissement, so you are almost outside of Paris proper, but still have easy access via the Metro: Porte Dauphine or Porte d’Auteuil.

Promenade Plantée
This is your dose of green space right in the middle of the city. The extensive greenbelt is built on an old railway line, and is a gorgeous space of trees, plants and plenty of benches to sit down and have a picnic. At almost three miles long it makes for a good jogging route, as long as you hit it at a time of day when there aren’t too many people. Access the Promenade Plantée from the Bastille Metro station.

Bois de Vincennes
Bois de Vincennesis the largest public park in the city, with a velodrome for bike races, a horse racing track and four lakes. Bike lanes, trails for running and even a Buddhist Temple, this is the place to come when you need a break from the city. The park is to the west of the 12th arrondissement and is easily accessed by Metro: Porte-Dorée or Château de Vincennes.

Where to Stay

Paris Hostel
With shared and private rooms, Paris Hostel is a good option for those that want a budget accommodation that’s well located. The rooms are small, but breakfast is included and you are perfectly situated for a morning run up to Montmartre. From 26€/night with shared facilities, 28€/night with private facilities. 39 Rue Rodier.www.paris-hostel.biz

Hotel Campanile Bastille
A popular French budget hotel chain, Hotel Campanile puts you close to the Bastille and the Marais all with an inner courtyard in the hotel, meaning you can start every morning off with your coffee outside. You’re also within walking distance of the Promenade Plantee. From 100€/night. 9 Rue de Chemin Vert, www.campanile.com

Hi-Matic Hostel
Branded as an eco-hotel, the Hi-Matic is a clean and budget-friendly space that also serves up a 100% organic breakfast that is included in the room price. For the environmentally conscious, they also employ an eco-friendly taxi service and use natural materials whenever possible. They’re also big on health: a card with yoga poses is left in every room. From 109€/night. 71 Rue de Charonne. www.hi-matic.net

Logistics

Get Around
Paris is easy to navigate with public transportation. This easiest option is the Metro – but there are plenty of bus routes as well. You can buy a batch (carnet) of 10 one-way tickets for 13.30€ in machines in every metro station, which will get you a ride on both the Metro and buses. If you want to get yourself around, consider taking advantage of the Vélib bikeshare system. A one-day Vélib ticket runs 1.70€ or you can get a week pass for 8€ – the easiest wy to get a ticket is to buy one online and print out your subscription number that you then type in when you want to use a bike. You get the first 30 minutes of Vélib use for free, which makes the system ideal for doing short trips around the city; pick up a bike in one spot and drop it off in another.

Seasonality
For those looking to spend most of their time outdoors in Paris, late spring, summer and early fall are your best bets. Paris can get very cold in the winter, which puts a damper on your outdoor experiences. A popular city, there are always visitors in Paris, but if you’re looking to avoid crowds, try for spring or fall so you can avoid the summer tourists.

Safety
Much like any big metropolis, it’s important to always be vigilant in Paris, especially in crowded tourist areas and the Metro. That being said, Paris is a safe city, so just bring along a little street sense and you’ll be in good shape.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user TerryPresley]

5 Spring Break Trips That Don’t Require Boozing In Mexico

Neon colored fruity cocktails consumed poolside with college students and bad house music in the background not really your thing? Spring break can be a lot of things, and it doesn’t have to fit the classic stereotype of sunburned jocks taking tequila shots in Cabo.

Spring is that perfect time of year when it’s not quite summer but the weather’s nicer so you can take full advantage of the great outdoors while still avoiding the larger crowds of tourists. If you’re willing to invest a little time in adventure planning, you can get some serious payoff. This is the time of camping and road trips after all.

So start packing your tent and down sleeping bag and get ready to explore. And although you might not be boozing at Senor Frogs, feel free to bring a flask of high-quality whiskey. It’s perfect around a campfire.

Explore Red Rock Country, Southwestern Utah

Some of my best spring break trips have been spent in southwestern Utah. This is the hotspot of mountain biking, canyoneering and just good old-fashioned exploring. If your mountain biking legs are itching to get out, you can’t do any better than the White Rim Trail. Arches National Park is always busy no matter what time of year, so either be sure to reserve your campsite in advance or opt for the less frequented Canyonlands; Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District is easy to access from Moab, but is far enough out that you’ll definitely feel off the grid. You’ll freeze at night, but during the day you’ll get dessert spring heat and low crowds. Be sure to bring ample down and wool for when the sun sets.

Hike in Yosemite National Park, California

One of the most iconic and most visited National Parks in the US, you should do whatever you can to avoid Yosemite National Park in the peak of summer. Springtime, however? Have at it. Because you are at elevation, you will need to pack layers, and you’ll need to be ok with the potential of waking up to snow on the ground, but you’ll have a beautiful park with a touch more peace and quiet than most people see it in. Take a day hike to explore a small part of the John Muir Trail.

Highway 101 Road Trip, Oregon and California

It might not be warm enough to do the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible, but a drive down the coast of Oregon and California in springtime is a beautiful thing. There are plenty of state parks along the way, which are much less crowded this time of year, and you’ll pass through enough cities that you can log in some urban adventures.

Bike in Yellowstone National Park, Montana

In the summer you can barely see a buffalo without a tourist and a camera right next to it, and cycling within the National Park would be near suicide, but in the early spring when the roads are plowed and the crowds have yet to arrive en masse, cycling is an excellent way to explore Yellowstone. It’s still a time of year when you are subject to the desires of the weather gods, so you will want to check with the local park service which roads are open.

A Hut-to-Hut Trip at Mount Rainier, Washington

Cross country skiing and snowshoe in the Mount Tahoma Trails Association‘s hut and yurt system. The trail system lies just outside of Mount Rainier National Park, and includes two cabins and a yurt for overnights. You’ll want to be sure to check availability online, and weather can quickly change your winter adventure into more of a muddy hike, but the views of Mount Rainier from High Hut are stunning and certainly worth it.

[Photo Credits: Anna Brones]

Nagasaki, Japan: More Than You Think

Outside of Japan, the port town of Nagasaki is simply known for one thing – the bombing that ended the second world war. There are plenty of reminders around the city, such as the striking single-legged torii gate (below) whose other half was blown off in the atomic blast, the stirring statues scattered about town and numerous memorials. It’s an important site in world history and worth going to for that reason alone.

Of course, no trip to Nagasaki would be complete without visiting Peace Park or the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, but there is so much more to Nagasaki.Yellow ceramic oragami paper cranes in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Yellow origami ceramic cranes in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

A monument under where the atomic bomb hypocenter was located.

Peace Park being visited by an elementary school field trip.

Nagasaki played an extremely important role in Japan’s history prior to World War II as well. For over 200 years, between 1633 and 1853, Nagasaki was the only port in all of Japan that was officially allowed to conduct trade with foreign countries. The impact of this role can still be seen today in the city’s food and architecture.

Megane-bashi, the spectacles bridge.

Megane-bashi, Japanese for “spectacles bridge”, is named for the reflection it creates in the water, is a very popular and romantic spot. Visiting around sunset is key and so is finding the heart-shaped brick in the stonework.

Castella, one of Nagasaki’s unique foods.

Today, Nagasaki is probably best known within Japan for its food. The two most popular dishes are castella (above) and champon. Castella is a simple cake that was brought in by the Portuguese. It’s rich with egg flavors and can be purchased virtually anywhere in the city. On the right is the original flavor and on the left is a green tea variation. Champon is a very popular pork and seafood noodle soup that was inspired from Chinese food. There is even a popular chain restaurant called Ringer Hut that sells Nagasaki champon throughout Japan.

The cute streetcars of Nagasaki.

Much like in the U.S., most cities in Japan used to have thriving streetcar networks. Today, most have ceased operation in favor of subways and making more room for cars. However, most of the big cities in southern Japan have held onto their streetcar tradition, including Nagasaki. It’s a convenient and fun way to get around the city and their bright colors are adorable.

Onboard a Nagasaki streetcar.

A row of torii gates at a local Shinto shrine.

Nagasaki is certainly not a main attraction in Japan, and quite a ways from many of the big name sights, but it’s worth it. It’s a quiet and quaint seaside town. It’s a great place to wander around and get lost in, to stumble across small neighborhood Shinto shrines and handicraft stores. There’s an important history to Nagasaki, without a doubt, but there’s a wealth of sights to see and things to do.

[Photo credits: Jonathan Kramer]

A Family Night Out In Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
After a long road trip around Iraq, I find myself back in Baghdad. It’s our last night together as a group. For our final dinner we decide to eat a famous Baghdadi recipe at a famous landmark –mazgouf fish at Abu Nuwas Park.

Abu Nuwas park runs for one-and-a-half miles along the east bank of the Tigris in central Baghdad. It’s named after an early medieval poet who was half Arab and half Persian, and wrote poems in both languages. His poetry celebrated wine and sex and made fun of the Arab nostalgia for Bedouin life. This ensured trouble during his lifetime and fame after his death.

In keeping with the Abu Nuwas’ liberal tradition, the park that bears his name is a neutral ground for the city’s warring factions. Everyone comes here to relax, not fight. Of course there’s still the usual cordon of armed guards. Trust is in short supply in this country.

Once inside, though, it doesn’t feel like Baghdad at all. Families have picnics on blankets spread under trees. Kids do cartwheels on the grass. The Tigris glitters with reflected streetlights. A fountain at the edge of the riverbank shoots up water as colored lamps make the jets pulse red and purple. Music mixes with the calls of vendors selling nuts, candy, and Spongebob Squarepants balloons.

We’ve come to dine at one of the city’s most popular restaurants, Mazgouf, named after a large fish found in the Tigris that’s considered a delicacy. The fish is cut in half down its length and stuck on spike next to an open wood fire to slowly cook. When it’s done, it’s pulled off the spike and put on a plate. The scales and eyes on the outside are still preserved, making a sort of bowl from which to scoop out the goopy and incredibly rich insides. The restaurant at Abu Nuwas Park is said to be one of the best.

We find the restaurant and sit outside. As usual, the people at the next table come over and welcome us to Iraq. Mazgouf is made to order so there’s a long wait before we get our meal. Once it comes, everyone digs in with relish. I’m no expert on mazgouf but it’s the second-best meal I’ve had this entire trip. It’s so rich and heavy I can only finish half of it, although I’d love to eat the whole thing. The mood at the table is celebratory. We’ve made it through Iraq unscathed. Everyone is thinking of home but disappointed to be leaving.

While everyone else is leaving tomorrow morning and the guards will go off to other duties, my flight isn’t until the following morning, which means I get a whole day to myself in Baghdad. This worries me only slightly. My time in Iraq has taught me that the country is far safer than most people believe, and my hotel is in a good neighborhood. Besides, staying in the hotel all day simply isn’t an option. I just hope I don’t have any trouble when I go out alone.

After dinner we stroll around the park. The mood is relaxed and festive. So is the dress code. A woman walks by in a skirt and I almost keel over. It’s the first bare female leg I’ve seen in more than two weeks. Young couples who may very well be unmarried walk hand in hand, whispering to each other. I’ve stepped into another world. It’s even more relaxed than Kurdistan. Flashing lights and squeals of laughter draw me down a path and to another gate.

%Gallery-172598%It’s an amusement park. Kids are zipping around on bumper cars in the middle of a pool, or shooting down a giant inflatable slide. Their big brothers and sisters play videos games in a nearby arcade.

Getting in requires going through another checkpoint. There’s a brief hassle as the park’s guards demand that our guards leave their guns behind. Captain Ali, the senior of our two guards, doesn’t like that idea. I’m not sure how it’s resolved but we eventually get through, only to be stopped again.

“What now?” someone in our group groans.

“Photo! Photo!” the park guards say.

“Oh, OK.”

We all line up and take each other’s photos. I still haven’t figured out why Iraqis all want their photo taken. Only one of them has asked for a copy, and he never emailed me so I could send it to him. Maybe they just want to be part of my holiday memories. That’s cool. Memory made.

As soon as we’re through I ditch my guards. I don’t think those kids on the Merry-go-Round are going to shoot me, and after more than two weeks of these guys dogging my movements I’m sick of them. I slip behind some spinning ride with flashing lights and I’m gone.

Swarms of laughing children zip past me as I wander among the rides. I shake my head in amazement. How is this possible? This country is torn apart by war and sectarian bitterness and here everything is just fine. These families are the Iraqi majority, the decent folks who want all the bullshit to stop so they can get some enjoyment out of life. It would be silly to think they’re “just like us”; they’re not. But they’re enough like us that when this whole mess sorts itself out, I know who I want to come out on top.

“Mr. Sean.”

I turned around. Aw crap, Captain Ali has found me.

“We need to go now,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah.”

I turn away and keep walking. He trots patiently behind. This is a game he knows he’ll win.

Families come up to me, asking that I photograph their children or forcing their kids into impromptu English lessons. The kids take it with good grace, as curious as their parents about this strange foreigner who’s wandered into their fun.

Well, almost all the kids take it with good grace. One man drags his toddler over and urges her, “Say hello. Say hello.” She bursts into tears.

“Tired?” I ask.

He smiles and nods.

“Yes, tired. Late night.”

We laugh, one father to another.

Another tug at my arm. It’s Captain Ali again. Go away.

“Mr. Sean, we need to go.”

He leads me off, holding my wrist like a naughty child. I could complain, but he’s the law and even though he still has a reserve of good humor, his patience is at an end. We head for the exit.

Three bombs exploded in Baghdad this morning. More than a dozen killed. The story is already being broadcast by all the major news channels, with the usual blaring headlines and snuff film visuals. I take a last look around at Abu Nuwas park, at the picnicking families and the laughing children and the guys selling balloons. There are no TV cameras here.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “A Solo Stroll Through Baghdad!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel