The Most Powerful Passports

Living in Australia and having to deal with Visa’s for the first time, made me realize actually how important it is to be able to acquire your right to stay in a certain country. There’s far more to it than just applying for a certain visa. Besides trying to figure out which visa applies to you and attempting not to miss the small, yet important lines, what passport you’re currently holding is paramount.

A report was posted on the 9th of October 2018 by the world leading global citizenship and residency advisory firm Henly & Partners, in which they ranked the most influential country documents that hold the key to cross borders. Considering 227 travel destinations for the 199 passports in their system, they thoroughly researched which passport is the most desirable for any keen traveller, assuming your main purpose is to visit for tourist or business purposes.

They stated that at the moment, Japan holds the strongest passport with access to 190 destinations (of the 227!), with Singapore (189) not far behind. Germany, France and South Korea are placed third with 188 countries to travel to, where Germany has been pushed back to third place since 2014. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain and Sweden hold fourth place with 187. Powerful US and UK, together with my beloved Netherlands, Austria, Norway and Portugal enjoy the fifth place with 186 accessible countries. Interestingly enough, the US and Uk both held the first spot in 2015, but have been descending ever since the Asian high-performers Japan, Singapore and South Korea started to take the lead. Noticeably, the Middle East, South America and Africa are further down the list. However, the United Arab Emirates has made it from the 62nd place in 2006 to a whopping 21st place this year, currently holding the number 1 most powerful passport of the Middle East. Furthermore, it is interesting to see how the list is dominated by Western-oriented countries, where the Asian countries emerge impressively. Australia holds the seventh spot, together with Greece and Malta (183).

Obviously, being able to obtain immediate access to a country for tourist or business reasons is not what every traveller is after. In my opinion, truly treasured countries are those who offer you the possibility to stay for at least 12 months with opportunities to work and travel, like New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Being a European citizen opens up so many doors as well, where I’d be able to live anywhere in Europe for no particular set period.

Although these numbers do not fully depict a realistic view for a traveller, they do teach us an interesting perspective on how the world is currently set. Richness, power, global influence, peace and natural resources play an important role in why a particular country is able to afford themselves the luxury of tourism. Bonds and connections formed between certain countries create a combined domination of what passports they’ll allow. What would the world be like without borders?

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.henleypassportindex.com/assets/2018/PI_2018_INFOGRAPHS_GLOBAL_181008_WITHOUT_CBI_PROGRAMS.pdf

https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/most-powerful-passport-henley-index-2018/index.html

https://www.henleypassportindex.com/press-releases

How Skyrim changed my Life

I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow to the knee – Guard

Let me guess. Someone stole your sweetroll! -Guard

When I first started to play this game, I could not have imagined how much Skyrim would mean to me. It sounds unbelievable that any game can have an impact so great on one’s life, though when you talk to Skyrim fans, you know they keep it in a sacred spot in their hearts. And for a good reason! Elder Scrolls V has had a massive impact in the gaming industry in many ways. Instead of focussing on deep character and relationship building, they emphasized an expansive, fantasy world with a huge amount of content to explore. They completely smashed the world by creating such an impressive RPG, which helped open up more games in that particular genre.

I’m sworn to carry your burdens – Lydia

How much content there is to this game, is very clear from the beginning. Immediately after your introductory quest -when you walk out that cave with either an Imperial or a Stormcloak- your character can get distracted by new sidequests. One does not simply go to Whiterun to inform the Jarl about the threat of dragons! Instead, I often found myself wandering off into the woods, whilst slaying annoying wolves and spiders, in search for other quests. And you did not have to walk far.

One of the beauties of this game is that it feels as if you can never fully ‘finish’ Skyrim. I remember one time after I’d already started a few new characters, I stumbled upon a hidden road behind the mountain range near Solitude I had never seen before. There was a whole new quest in that cave, and I was astounded that after so many hours of playing, I’d completely missed that.

skyrim-stunned-with-its-massive-breathtaking-world

No lolligagin – Guard

Skyrim was also groundbreaking by their use of stunning graphics to create a magical world. Glorious snowy peaks and mysterious pinewoods added to the realism of the game. So many times I called someone near me just to show them how beautiful my view from the mountain top was, which they would receive with just a nod- and of course, since they completely failed to grasp the true appreciation of Skyrim as a non-player.

After you play the game for a while, you notice you get a preference for a certain character and a particular way to fight. I remember I wanted to explore the magic in Skyrim with my very first character, though I soon found out that using a bow combined with magic worked the best. My prefered way was levelling up in conjuring so I could summon storm atronach’s and while they distracted the enemy alongside trusty Lydia, I showered them with arrows. I do feel like most people reckoned archery was a good method of fighting effectively. If I could think of any way Skyrim lacked slightly, it was that close combat wasn’t as advanced as it could’ve been. Luckily, the game made up for it in many other aspects.

Some may call this junk, me, I call them treasures – Khajit

Skryim got under my skin from the beginning and still today I love to listen to the soundtracks with an affectionate nostalgia. It enabled me to wind down after a busy day or kept me company when it was too cold to go outside. It made me realize how much I love playing games too. I often wondered whether I would ever ‘fall in love’ with another game like I had with Skyrim, and in the end, I did. Even though I was sceptical at first to let Skryim go for a while, the Witcher 3 is now the game I play in between games. However, Skyrim will always be my first and the one I’d return to at least once every year.

What is better – to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort? – Paarthurnax

 

 

 

 

 

God of War, a Review

Boy! – Kratos

For a few years now, I’ve enjoyed this sudden hype about the Nordic legacies and Viking tales. Besides the fact that it seemed as if everyone wanted an arrow or deer tattoo, I believe it has influenced the makings of the thrilling show Vikings and the games Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War (Skryim maybe too?). I did not manage to get completely into Horizon, despite my efforts. However, God of War got me enthralled from the first quest on.

I hadn’t played any of the previous games, though I felt1 it was not necessary. The game immediately gives you enough information through context -though not so much through conversation. Along with the cinematic views of a frozen Scandinavian land, fairly easy-to-understand gameplay and the (initial) clumsy father-son interaction, I was hooked. The mysterious death of their mother ‘Faye’ is encountered during the first scene, followed by a rather annoying man ‘who didn’t seem to feel anything!’. (Unfortunately, he returned later after I thought I’d killed him).

I won’t pretend I play all my games in legendary mode. Not even the ‘give me a challenge’ one. Sometimes, I degrade myself even further by playing the ‘give me a story,’ when I keep dying trying to defeat these impossibly frustrating poison-flinging revenants. Nevertheless, I do try to challenge myself and this game offers a challenge without a doubt. Kratos fights insanely large creatures! I had sweaty hands the first time I saw this ogre or troll or whatever its called come up to me with his weird wooden weapon. Now, I feel relieved when it’s just a troll, for I rather fight those than figuring out how to defeat another bloody dragon! It’s an enjoyable challenge nonetheless.

What I love about this game too is how the relationship between Kratos and Atreus changes significantly as you continue to complete their quests. With every quest, the player learns a bit more about why Kratos is being so distant to Atreus and why he doesn’t want him to know that Kratos is a demi-god. I am still halfway, so I’ll have to see for myself what will be revealed next!

I would admit I’m always more interested in RPG’s and even though God of War lets you walk and explore a bit, it mainly wants you to follow the storyline. I don’t mind it, but it would’ve been even better if there was more to do in sidequests.

Nevertheless, I’m loving this game and would reccomend it to everyone who likes to fight massive beasts, learn about Nordic Folklore and is not afraid of a little bit of blood.

The artistry of small talk

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wing. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred – Ernest Hemingway

It felt like an overwhelmed young butterfly in a field of ripe, fragrant and sweet flowers. Uncertain where to fly to first, where to land first and where to dip in my innocent butterfly mouth into.

Small talk is not a craft I have a natural talent for. I am all talk with friends and family, though when I find myself in a new environment with new people, I jam. Lacking confidence, I tend to carry myself awkwardly, clumsily through social events and conversations, where I often remain quiet or mumble something incomprehensible that’s completely off topic. I am sure everyone has their moments of self-doubt and what I’m describing here is anything but new. It, however, was a recent issue I had to overcome, which I thought I had conquered years back.

Hospitality is an area where you constantly work and interact with people. There’s no escaping it unless you opt to dedicate yourself to a life of repetitive napkin folding (which I reckon isn’t too bad; it’s quite relaxing). Yet, either as a waitress, food runner or bartender, I had no choice but to engage in conversation once every 5 minutes; it completely unbalanced me. Even though I’ve been working in hospitality for almost 9 years now, this job required me to socialize more than I ever had to.

With a queer fondness, I think back on when I was just a small, hyperactive kid who one day got struck by the realisation of self-consciousness. I similarly remember the day and the actual situation when I felt shame for the first time, and I’m sure most people do. Anyway, I went from a constantly talking child to a nervously shy one, where I would turn purple any time someone talked to me. On many occasions, I even fled the site of confrontation. After a few years of social anxiety and loneliness, I decided this was not a living and I planned to throw myself into it all in order to gain friends. It worked, despite the occasional failure. I taught myself how to talk, even though it didn’t come naturally. Eventually, it was easy.

Coming into a new environment like I did last year with no one around me I knew well (besides my partner), made me recall those shy days and how I went through a lot of effort to conquer it. And even though it’s not great still, I did put myself out there. The most amazing thing I realised later, is that people generally don’t really care if you act in a reserved way or sometimes laugh awkwardly or remain quiet when you ought to have said something. Besides the fact that most people roughly remember 90% of what they said themselves in the social interaction, they also recognize their own social insecurities and look past them. In the end, everyone’s self-conscious in one way or another.

In addition, it’s beautiful when people do open up to you. I find it impressive and exciting when someone tells you their story. On how they travelled to Australia from Ireland after meeting her Dutch husband. How they’re happy to finally have the weekend so they can celebrate their 2 year anniversary with some champagne. In the end, it’s worth the effort to try to make small talk, for it can be so rewarding getting to know random strangers and making new friends.

The Elephant​ in the Room

Just now I watched the winner of short films, Rat Race by Steve Cutts. The rats, who are obviously symbolizing humans, go through a stressful city life where they’re looking for happiness, whilst continuously being crushed by masses of bodies and intrusive advertisements. It is clear from the moment you start watching the film, it is going to be about how every individual in the current society searches for happiness. The rat that is being followed in particular is trying to find happiness in all sorts of ways, such as purchasing expensive cars, drinking and taking medication. All fails, when he’s being trapped trying to catch a 100 dollar bill; doomed to an unhappy nine-to-five job.

A few days before, I watched a program on television where several famous folk gave their unsalted opinion on social media and its current ‘negative effects’. “Social media is disconnecting us from our true friends; we feel lonelier than ever,” said one artistic looking man who’s a singer-songwriter. “Depression and negative self-views are more common than before,” said another one. “Society is failing to make us happy,” is what they were trying to say.

Both examples are a way of criticizing society. Social media is dividing us. Education is not preparing us for ‘the real world’. How often do we hear similar phrases. It’s not something new, yet it keeps being said without any noticeable changes or probable solutions to the issue at hand.

If I’ve learned anything from art in high school is that everything needs an opposing view. Picasso, who in his younger years painted very naturalistically, later in life opposed to the realistic style of the Renaissance by creating the cubism movement. In addition, realism was a reaction to the extravagant style of romanticism. Similarly, it is necessary that there are people speaking against the current society, social media and education as a form of counter-balance.

However, the arguments are starting the become repetitive and hollow. Spreading negativity about the way we’re living is not going to increase our happiness (if there’s unhappiness at all). As a psychology graduate, I am aware of the large numbers of depression in the world, and although I am very much encouraging the increased awareness of this illness, I feel there can be too much of an emphasis on unhappiness.

There is a need for positivity, contentedness and gratefulness. The world is not all sorrow, hostility and conflict. You’d be surprised how happy you can be (or already are) by having the right mindset. By being content with your day to day activities and accomplishments. If I’ve had a tough day, I always try to make a list in my head where I write down at least 10 things that happened that day I feel happy or grateful for. After a while, it becomes a habit and helps you perceive the world in a much sunnier light.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions – Dalai Lama

When you stop thinking about yourself as an uninfluential gear in a massive factory, but instead believe you have control over your own life and when you try new, exciting things to look forward to and enjoy, you can make yourself find happiness quite easily. Go out into the world, explore, wonder, learn. Emerge yourself into a new culture, lose yourself into a book or a delicious dish. Allow yourself to fail sometimes, though let it not bring you down. Try again. In the end, you will find that there’s so much more to offer in the world that you won’t find any time for negativity and unhappiness.

A happy pear

In a world, bursting with chaos, noisiness, glamour and lights; a world saturated with bubbles, sparkles, flashes, shrieks and popcorn, there was, in the middle of it all, a pear.

A pear, a pear, a happy pear, a blushing pear, a yellow pear, a green pear. A pear dripping with crimson sauce, delightfully fragrant with orange and spices. A beautiful pear, a wonderful pear, a pear lavishly delicious to bite into.

A sad pear, wrinkled, mouldy, lonesome in a bowl, sweating in hot daylight, vibrating on heavy footsteps of ignorant passengers. Left uneaten, unpeeled, a pear untouched, unloved and forgotten. In a bowl where all the other fruit had been chosen.

The pear used to be a handsome pear, sparkling green with lovely light green patches as enticing as a spring morning. Fresh with dew, and with one leaf remembering its heritage of being a newly created pear from a lovely pink pear flower from a pink pear tree.

When caressed, the pear used to have a soft, silky skin with hardly any imperfections, with juicy flesh but not too unripe; just the perfect ratio of ripeness and crunchiness.

A pear, the pear, the lonesome, mouldy, wrinkled and sweaty pear left alone in the bowl. Bubbliness, sparkliness have left the pear, evaporated, like a bygone husky summer evening. Who will touch the pear now.

On Carrots, Walnuts and Cinnamon

As usual, my timing is bizarelly good – Jamie Oliver

That was not the case this sun-drowned afternoon when I hurriedly tried to assemble a carrot cake auspiciously called ‘incredibly moist and easy’. While three obnoxious fat flies neurotically circled around in the kitchen and bumped against the window and while flushed breezes entered through the opened doors, I ran around panicking, trying to find the spatula. I had to ride off on my trusty bike to work at 3:30 and the cake needed to be in the oven at least at 2:30. I crushed walnuts, peeled carrots and suffocated batter in cinnamon, rasped too much nutmeg and cursed loudly in Dutch when I dropped the wet whisk on the floor. Still, despite the chaos, I absolutely adore cooking.

Baking always seems the easiest way for me to find quick relaxation in the kitchen, though I do enjoy hosting dinners at home where I’ll go utterly crazy on at least 3 courses. Searching through Jamie Oliver’s or Donna Hay’s cookbooks, I’ll try to find the best matching dishes where I’d be able to learn something new. My last exploration involved cooking two different kinds of stew for a homemade chicken and beef pie (they were two separate dishes, I did not defy the universal rules of pie making). It took me at least half a day, but the results were received with applause and compliments.

However, baking offers the best possibility to create something beautiful from scratch in less time. I recently discovered a quick recipe for insanely fluffy chocolate muffins, that simply do not need any frosting, for their fluffiness is orgasmic (recipe is included). Carrot cake, however, has always had a special place in my heart. I’ve always felt there’s never enough cinnamon, silky walnuts add extra crunchiness to a sponge cake and carrots are just awesome veggies.

After a fight with the oven, the loaf emerged from the grey steam and although I would’ve liked it to be slightly less burned, the taste was absolutely breathtaking.

I present to you, the Carrot Cake Loaf.

Carrot Cake.jpeg

moist.

 

Recipes:

Super moist Chocolate Cupcakes: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2017/06/22/super-moist-chocolate-cupcakes/ (applause to Sally!)

Carrot Cake: https://prettysimplesweet.com/carrot-cake/ (amazing cake, Shiran!)

 

 

A report on Australian hospitality

The Islanders are renown for their unconditional friendliness and genuine warmth, and I can vouch for that. Throughout my stay in Australia, I feel like their constant hospitality utterly astonished me. Besides the odd grumpy one, they have such a developed sense of empathy and an understanding of how the human mind likes to be treated.

Hospitality is the immediate environment where it can be noticed. ‘Instant gratification’ -the need for humans to feel acknowledged and praised-  is common sense in the world of beer pouring and cocktail making. An instant smile appears when I tell them that Hendriks Gin is also my favourite gin for a GT. I am still amazed by the laid-back way a bartender can ask ‘how their day’s going’ and how the lazily leaning-on-the-counter Australian would reply with a genuine report on their day’s activities. “Oh you know, I just finished a tough workday, got some bad news from my auntie in New Zealand, she might need to be hospitalized, – yes, the Panhead XPA would be great, thanks- but yeah, everything’s fine, just having an easy afternoon with my family-in-law. How’s your day going?”

In my head, I keep comparing to what I’ve been used to in my almost 9 years of experience in hospitality in the Netherlands. Hardly any words are exchanged in the transaction of a Dutch individual requesting a Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier at any bar and if I even have the nerves to ask them how their day’s been, I’d receive the bluntest reply possible. Not that I’m here to rain down on Dutch mannerisms, though there is something to learn from this massive difference in culture. Although I have to admit it was rather hard for me to get to understand their small talk, it now feels as if I’m building an emotional bond with every customer who lands at my bar for an Afternoon Delight. I absolutely love it.

There’s something to say for both parties. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to discuss your reason to decide to drink a double bourbon-coke at 11am. Nevertheless, these brief conversations offer someone a brief peek into their personal life, which gives the general Australian a feel of vulnerability and neighbourliness.  Even if I tried really hard, I couldn’t find a way to not love this country and its inhabitants.

A Game of Books and Restlessness

… I climbed the three staircases, raised the trapdoor of the attic, and having reached the leads, looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and long dim skyline – that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen.. I could not help it; the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes.  – Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontie.

I always felt that Brontie explains Jane’s emotions so well in this paragraph, where the reader can easily identify with her too. Restlessness has always been a major puzzle in my life, both physically and mentally. Reading books did not come naturally to me. Neither did being able to sit down quietly or having the patience to finish something properly (to the frustration of my parents). High school was a trial, especially getting the grades needed to graduate. I like to think back with a curious fondness to the moment I received the call from my mentor whether I had graduated or not. That man in particular was a dry, wrinkled and humourless teacher, though an honest man which he confirmed when he spoke to me that day on the phone.  “Hi, Elise, I have received the results from your tests and well,” he uttered in his slow, monotone voice, “I did not expect this but you have passed.” No hint of sarcasm, no sound of a quick smile. I was happy nonetheless and continued to struggle with my restlessness throughout university.

As I got older though, I actively undertook steps to learn to sit down for a while in order to read. First, a page or two were almost unbearable for me, but after a while, I read page after page and now, if I feel like I have absolutely nothing else to do, I can read a book in a day. I read ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ in one day each – yes, I feel I’m allowed to boast a little about this. On the road trip around Australia, reading was my main entertainment in the evenings. We collected half a library in the back of the car and in order for me to stop buying books since I’d finish them rather quickly, I decided it was more profitable if I bought larger books. Naturally, I started to read Game of Thrones from George R R Martin. I can assure you when I saw the books for the first time, I could’ve never dreamed that I’d be able to read through all of them, but I did. It feels like an accomplishment, besides the fact that it was made easier since the books are utterly captivating.

Now, reading books is a relaxing experience for me, though I still have to tell myself to sit down and stop fussing about all the other things that need to be done. Rather to think of reading as a mandatory exercise needed to learn something or maybe for the aesthetic of it all, it truly opens up a new world filled with wild dragons, heated discussions, stonecold zombies, fiery passions, unsalted opinions and unexplored universes.

 

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