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. 

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.

Chateau Laurier and the Locks
Rideau Canal Locks


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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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


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
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!


Being Brave in Bogota 

My first impressions of Colombia’s capital city are admittedly coloured by its dangerous reputation, so it’s not very surprising that the things I notice on my first day here seem to line up with that.  Confirmation Bias – “I think I’m right so I subconsciously look for things that prove my opinion” – can be tricky to overcome.

I knew that Bogota has been an immensely dangerous city, and that within the 8 million or so people living here the extremes between extravagant wealth and utter poverty are jarring.  So when I arrived and saw a city full of graffiti and security guards with rifles, police with dogs, or soldiers on every block it just seemed scary to me. 

As I was thinking further about it, though, I came to realize that the heavy police presence was a good thing, and an indicator of the city’s efforts to stop the crime that had been so rampant.  Once I had that shift in my thinking it became easier for me to see the good side of Bogota, and I ended up really enjoying exploring some of the sights.   I was still careful as I made my way though the city streets alone, staying aware of what was surrounding me.  Before I left my room I also prepared for the possibility of being mugged by only bringing a small amount of cash with me at a time and by hiding my phone in a secret pocket in my scarf.  (If you haven’t heard of these yet, check out what I consider my “security blanket” for when I’m out….. Travel scarf.  I love it!!)   Don’t worry though – I ended up completely safe without any close calls and instead found people here to be very generous and helpful!

Everyone says the best tourist thing to see in Bogota is the view from Monserrate, a mountain right at the centre of the city.  My hotel happens to be close to the base of Monserrate, so I was able to walk and in about 20 minutes I reached the ticket office to purchase my cable car ride to the top.  Here’s a little tip for you if you plan to go see for yourself:  Anyone afraid of heights should try to stand in the middle of the cable car, the huge windows mean it can be very clearly seen that the car is dangling from high above the steep face of the mountain; and anyone claustrophobic should avoid the middle of the car that is packed shoulder to shoulder with other people and at least try to be squished up against the window. If you suffer from both, well, there is a path to walk up to the peak, if you’re patient!

On the way up
As far as my eyes could see – Bogota

As well as the panoramic views of a city seemingly unending, there are gardens with plants that look like they sprung to life straight from a Dr. Seuss book. 

I was delighted by the flowers, but I’m sure most people spend more time noticing the church, as it’s a popular pilgrimage destination, or the souvenir shops or restaurant.  Whatever the draw, a great way to spend a morning!

My next stop on my own Discover Bogota initiative is the Gold Museum, as it’s the other item always listed in the guidebooks and blogs.  I loved the museum!  It’s so well laid out over 4 floors of a large building and jam-packed with the history of civilizations that inhabited the Northern part of South America, telling about these lives by what was done with gold and other precious metals.  The entrance cost me about $1.35 and I could have easily spent more time here, so this will be back on my list of things to see when I return to Colombia one day.

Another shift I’m beginning to notice while I spend more time out in Bogota is the artistic vibe as an undercurrent throughout the community, even in the graffiti that first seemed so unsettling.  Some of the street art I stumbled across appears to be a social commentary, others beautiful murals.  See for yourself:

Maybe sometimes being brave isn’t about surviving something scary, once in a while it might be about the hard work needed to overcome an incorrect bias.

And finally, since I can’t get Dr. Seuss out of my head, here are some of his words to send us off with.



Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

More from New York

I have a confession to make.  I have been avoiding this blog for a week, even though I still have lots to say and even though I really do love writing it.  That’s weird, right?   I would want to sit down and start a post telling you about all the great things I saw on my last trip, (finishing off the post I started in Naming New York ) but then I would open YouTube or Pinterest instead, or watch a movie or pick up a book, pretty much anything to avoid productivity.  I’ve also managed to avoid laundry and vacuuming through these same tactics.   But I think it’s about time for me to wrap up this little brain break I’ve given myself and get back to seeing how much I can accomplish in my day instead of how little.  Do you know the feeling – have you ever had a chance to just let yourself be a blob for a while?  (Not counting any times prior to your 23rd birthday!  I remember lots of us choosing to be brainless at times before the full pressures of adulthood kicked in!)

So here we go.  I think I’ll still start off with something easy, though, and keep this to a pretty simple recounting of the time I had in New York with my girls last week.

Four childhood friends from a small town are set loose in a big city where they discover new adventures and new things about each other.    If you didn’t read that last sentence in an exaggerated movie-trailer-narrative voice then please go back and read it again the way it was meant.  Or skip it entirely – lines that cheesy aren’t meant to be taken seriously!!    But actually….  that pretty much sums up my 5 days in New York.    The four childhood friends are myself and 3 of my cousins that I grew up with, and we really did keep busy with exploring for the entire trip.

Amanda, Erin, Julie, and yours truly
We’re not always so elegant…  That photo was just before the one Broadway show we were able to see.  And side note – go see Cirque Du Soleil PARAMOUR if you ever get the chance.  I loved it sooooo much!!  I think my exuberance to see the show must have caught the attention of Karma, because when we arrived at the theatre to pick up our tickets, (cheapest ones available and at the top back of the room) we were given an upgrade and watched the show from nearly the best seats in the house!  Made my night!!

Another highlight was going to Yankee Stadium to watch a baseball game, again made even better when our team won! Go Jays!  We had jokingly wondered before if it would be a problem cheering for the visiting team, but when we got to the stadium we saw almost as many Toronto fans as there were for the Yankees.   It was incredible to sit out in the sunshine with about 37,400 or so other people and cheer on the teams.  IMG_0016

On a day that was slightly less hot and sunny, we chose to be a little more active than we had been previously so we found some bicycles to rent and cruised our way through Central Park.  I still find it amazing that a park so big can be in the middle of 8.5 million people… and there were times where it felt like we were the only ones there!  Beautiful!  As we were making our way through the park, Julie saw signs leading to a castle in the park so we made our way to go see it.  Now, the part that I really want to convey other than the fact that an almost secret mini castle exists, is the fun coincidence that this is Belvedere Castle.   If you’ve been reading my other posts, you may remember that I was just at Belvedere Palace in Poland with two other friends.   Unless I was just the only one that hadn’t realized Belvedere was a major global name, this seems an unlikely parallelism.  Not that I’m reading anything into it – I doubt the universe is trying to get me to drink more Belvedere Vodka! – but it’s made me smile none the less.

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Part of Central Park’s Belvedere Castle in New York

So active
Other things we did during our days there:  Ate a lot of ice cream.  Gawked at the crowds in Times Square.  Walked through SoHo and countless other communities.  Shopped on 5th Ave.  Saw the Statue of Liberty.  Took a moment to reflect at the 9/11 Memorial site.  Rode the subway.  Noticed two rats.  Marvelled at the Brooklyn Bridge.  Gossiped together while getting pedicures.  Laughed at the “Pretty Lady Discount” we were offered by creative vendors.  Took a ton of pictures of the four of us together.  Further cemented our bond as friends for life.

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Naming New York

New York City.  Those three words together are almost certain to evoke a reaction whenever they’re used.  Clearly more than just a mark on a map, New York has a persona of its own, and in the realm of cities, New York is an A-list celebrity that everyone recognizes and wants a part of.  The fame of this city makes it seem completely familiar, but with an edge and enough mystery to keep us intrigued.

I’m here with 3 other girlfriends, and I am soooo happy to have their company on this trip!  Always happy to see them, but especially now after travelling alone for the past 6+ weeks!!  Having their excitement and seeing their view of NY along with the way they’ve relayed that to their own friends back home has been fascinating for me.  It’s fun to have another perspective – a reminder of what it’s like to experience the hum of the Big Apple for the first time. 

For me, it’s the rush I feel just as I step outside the theatre after watching a great Broadway show that keeps me coming back.  Having so many sounds and sensations saturating my nervous system is the best intoxication for me, and I’m floating on that energy for the rest of the night.   The skill of the performers; the set, costumes and lights and music; then to walk outside into the crowds – sirens and horns and bike bells and street hawkers and advertisements all blaring; the sizzle of hot dogs and kebabs lingering over it all.  This is New York.  Not the mountains of garbage on the curbs or the smells on the subway platforms, those seem to fade away to the background of what I notice or remember.   And that, in my opinion, is what really makes any A-lister, whether city or celebrity: that certain magic equation where the good is so great that it subtracts away the negative.