More miles and Milestones

Guess where I am again right this very moment?   I’ll give you a hint…. in the background around me I’m hearing “cookies or pretzels? Cookies or pretzels?” on a continuous loop anytime I pull out my earbuds.   (Side note for anyone that may get tired of hearing the flight attendants always say the same things, even though you know what to expect on the flight:  I promise they are more tired of having to say it with a smile a trillion times each day!)     So you guessed it – I’m on another flight!!  Today I hopped over to Vancouver to trade in the windy weather of Calgary for the rainy wet West Coast.   And also to actively avoid the adult pressures I have at home…. life seems so much simpler when I’m literally running away from my problems!   Not that I recommend that – please do as I say and not as I do!!! 

So speaking of doing as I say… I’ve recently found a great website that has the potential to make my life as a traveller much easier.  Have you heard of RideGuru?  If you haven’t yet, I say you should go look them up!!  This handy site helps sort out the options available between ride share companies, and will give a realtime estimate of the costs for each option, including a traditional taxi cab.   It’s like comparison shopping for modern transportation!  Here’s a peek at what I had today when I pulled it up on my phone:

My RideGuru screenshots

Super easy!  And since I like things that make my life easier, this automatically ranks pretty high in my books.   Unfortunately, keeping with my “aimless” title apparently, I realized with hindsight that a little planning may still be a good idea, even when using a smart new website.   If you look back at the bottom left screenshot in the picture above, you might see that the Uber ride is from Vancouver Washington.   Turns out that Vancouver B.C. still has a lot of restrictions in place on rideshare operators, and there’s no Uber here.   So we took a taxi, but at least thanks to RideGuru I could anticipate how much it would cost!

In the cab, because Vancouver doesn’t have Uber
Rain on the window

That I had a little hiccup in my travels probably doesn’t surprise anyone who has read my blog before.  I seem to do this a lot, launching into action before looking at the details.  Maybe one day I’ll learn – but then what would I write about if everything went smoothly?! 

A pint at the harbour

I’m lucky enough to have high caliber friends in multiple cities who are willing to put up with me when I say things like “Hey! I’m in town for 5 hours – want to show me some city hotspots?”  And two of the best happened to be available to do just that today in Vancouver!  From our first perch overlooking the False Creek Harbour, to a scenic walk through a rainy park and into a new Distillery at Granville Island, I don’t think I stopped laughing.  Next, with a little help from RideGuru, we zipped to Yaletown and settled into yet another pub.  Usually I spend a day walking through a city; today I ate and drank my way around.  I like to keep it balanced!  

My day with Mark and Dave
These poor guys had to listen to me gush all day about how much I love writing my blog, and while I’m sorry for being repetitive, I’m currently a little obsessed in my excitement about all this.  I am over the moon thrilled with the response I’ve been getting, and it truly makes my day learning that people read what I write.  From they bottom of my heart, thank you for following along aimlessly with me!!  I reached a big milestone today – 500 WordPress followers!   So exciting!

8 hours in Ottawa

I think I’m getting too old for this.  I can’t believe that these thoughts are entering and escaping my head – who wants to feel old?!? – but the truth is I have been squirming in my seat on the plane for the last hour trying to find a way to believe that my knees and lower back aren’t actually starting to ache.  Oh and earlier today I was so mad at myself for forgetting to bring my sunglasses along, because it meant I had to squint in the bright sunlight and all I could think about was the new wrinkles that were sure to be forming at that very second.  Aaand I just realized as I wrote that last sentence forgetfulness could also be another symptom.  I’m rolling my eyes at myself right now….

Let’s back up a little, to yesterday, when I apparently believed I could still pull an all-nighter like a twentysomething.  It was Thursday morning and I was trying to figure out how I could be in about 3 different places across the country at roughly the same time.  (And failing at that solution, in case you were curious)  I realized I would have to scratch PEI and the East Coast off my weekend list, but then had the brainwave that I could take the red-eye flight again from Calgary to Ottawa, spend the day there and still be back in Alberta for my family’s Thanksgiving Dinners on the weekend.  Bingo! Two places – one day!!

I did have a valid reason for being in Ottawa today.  Last week on my way to Toronto I dropped off our passports at the Vietnamese embassy because Tricia and I need a tourist visa stamped prior to our trip in less than two weeks!! so I needed to be back to pick them up today.   (It was more fun this way than mailing the passports… just roll with it.)   And I was pretty excited about another chance to stroll around Canada’s beautiful capital city, which is clearly way better than sitting at home brooding about all the adult stresses I have.    My luck with the standby flights continued to hold and my plan worked, so I had a great day and am thrilled with it all.  Just not my aging knees.

Alright, let’s get to the interesting parts, shall we?  Here’s Ottawa in a day.

I took the bus from the airport downtown and then started walking to the embassy. Should have been a quick 35 minute walk but I was distracted every few minutes with all the things I wanted to take pictures of.   I’m a sucker for nature in cities. 

 

After I finished collecting the passports, I went to see the exhibits at the National Gallery of Canada.  Beautiful.  I love museums and galleries, and I passed more than 2 hours here today.  This is despite the main exhibition wings being closed for renovations.  I’ll need to come back again after May 2017 when it’s all reopened for Canada’s 150 birthday. 
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After the Gallery I walked past and through beautiful buildings and neighbourhoods slowly arrived at the Byward Market.  This is several blocks of outdoor markets and vendors, eateries, entertainment, and an all around good time.

Ok, the Beaver Tail stand is worth mentioning.   In my experience when asked what a uniquely Canadian food is, the first answer is Poutine and the second, after some hesitation, is generally “Beaver Tails?”.  Not very common in Alberta (yet?!) so today was my first taste of the amazing fried dough with cinnamon and sugar.  It’s somehow so much better even than it sounds, and I’m already addicted.

After that fat-bomb of deliciousness I made a healthy effort to pick up the pace and walk a little quicker than the slow saunter I’d be doing all day.  This brought me to the Rideau Canal Locks and Parliament Buildings, where I of course had to slow down again for the gazillion photo ops.

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Chateau Laurier and the Locks
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Rideau Canal Locks

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I would have gone for a guided tour inside the Parliament Building, but it was so nice outside there was no way I was going to miss anymore of the sunshine!   Instead I plunked down on the lawn, took my shoes off, and enjoyed pretending it was still summer while I people watched other tourists.  And took pictures.   I would have had a cute selfie here, except I had to block out the wrinkling-and-squinting glare from the sun….     After this was more walking to see some of the monuments to great historical Canadians, and then back to the airport for me.


My four hour flight tonight has gotten me back home, and it’s just after 11pm on Friday.   I can’t wait to get home and crawl in to bed, but it’s a good thing I did take advantage of the summer weather in Ottawa – Calgary had winter today!   My car is encased in a sheet of ice, but at least I can finish up this post while I wait for the windshield to defrost…

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Toronto

Not long ago I wrote about being a “Hometown Tourist” and I think that this will be something I’m going to keep circling back to from time to time.  I know that I won’t always get 5 months off to go explore the wide world like I’ve been able to this year, so to get my fix for travel when I may not be able to jet off I’ll continue to explore the areas I overlook because it’s just ‘home’.   Plus, that means that I’ll be ready to give the best tips or play tour guide to friends that come to visit Calgary!

But today I’m writing on a riff of that, home country rather than home town.  The same level of comfort and familiarity but spread across a much larger area.  More to love!

Canada is BIG.  That little line I have drawn on the map from Calgary to Toronto is a 4 hour flight, or as I discovered while I was playing with Google Maps, a 34 hour drive.  Plenty of time for our patriotic coffee!

When I arrived in Toronto I took the UP express train direct from the airport to Union Station downtown and enjoyed wandering around this vibrant city for a few hours.  I’ve been to Toronto several times before, but this is the first time I’ve been able to slowly and aimlessly explore a few neighbourhoods as a tourist.img_2702

Later in the evening Erin arrived, and that’s the other best thing about hometown/home country travelling – I know people here!! (side note, Erin’s graced the pages of this blog before…you can find that in More from New York)

We happened to be in the city the same time as Nuit Blanche was happening.  I’d never heard of this before so I’ll go with the assumption that maybe you haven’t either.   According to their website the Toronto Nuit Blanche is a “free, annual, city-wide celebration of contemporary art…from sunset to sunrise.”  Roads were blocked off and transformed to pedestrian thoroughfares, museums and galleries open all night and art installations enchanting downtown.  How great is it to be able to safely walk around a city after dark?!  The streets were buzzing with energy, everyone happy and thrilled with one more chance to be out before it gets too frosty.img_2690img_2692img_2695

Bright and sunny the next day (notice I didn’t say early…. we spent all night walking around enjoying the art life!) and after loading up on coffees and brunch we were ready to fall into all the tourist traps Toronto has to offer.  First up:  The CN Tower.

The CN Tower is pretty tall, standing at 553 metres or 1815 feet high, and apparently until 2007 was the world’s tallest freestanding structure.  If you want to challenge your fear of heights from a cozy safe space, come up here and walk across the glass floor, or really ramp up your adrenalin and try out the Edgewalk where you are literally walking along the top edge outside with only a harness to keep you alive.   I’m sure it’s fun….

Steps away from the base of the tower there’s the old rail yard, and the Steamwhistle Brewery beckoning us over for a tour.  We couldn’t say no to that!

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One tiny little taste of Toronto down, much more to go my next time through this city!

Hometown Tourist

People looove to complain about social media these days.  Have you noticed that?  It almost seems like the trendy sport du jour, especially from people who are perhaps ‘recovering digital addicts’ themselves.  I maybe have tiptoed on that bandwagon myself once or twice, fed up with all the angry/prejudice/ranting commonly found, but at the moment I am a staunch supporter.  I’m thankful for the connection I get with people online, and that has been extra apparent to me this past week.  Personally, it’s been a bit rocky for me but I have had so many comments of support via my social media outlets that have brightened my day and genuinely made me feel better.  So thank you.

Speaking of great people, let’s segue in with some of them I spent my weekend with.  If you’ve followed this blog before you might remember Jeff and Jeanette and my Warsaw adventures with them earlier this summer… Well those two beautiful love birds tied the knot on Saturday and I was fortunate enough to celebrate with them.  With their wedding in my hometown, I feel qualified to announce their venue picks were pretty fantastic: What more could you want than to spend a day surrounded by indoor tropical gardens in the middle of downtown, and then (for us aviation geeks/travel addicts) party surrounded by old airplanes?   Seriously, it was perfect.

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Jeanette and Jeff’s wedding at Devonian Gardens

 

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Perfect for this gang of aviators (photo credits to Natasha and Dave – thanks guys!)

So that was a lot of fun….

 

I have been desperately missing my travel adventures for the past couple weeks I’ve been at home, and yesterday I finally decided to do something about it.  I took my camera for a walk and played the role of tourist for a couple hours, and you know what I (re)discovered? I live in a beautiful city!!   Here are a few of my favourite shots from one corner of Calgary:

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The Peace Bridge and downtown Calgary
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Peace Bridge
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Calgarians soaking up the summer-like Fall; still going at 6pm on a late September day!
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Still on a bit of a graffiti kick from being in Bogota
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The city viewed from McHugh Bluff
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Calgary and the Bow River
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Prairie sky

And finally, because my walk took me here, a Calgary icon and home of all my best memories of milkshakes and burgers.  Peter’s Drive In.  I recommend the caramel coffee milkshake!

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Hopefully in the next few days I’ll be free to get back on the road.  Not sure yet where it will take me!