Little Leeds Layover

The English countryside is so iconic, no? Maybe it comes from our commonwealth history, where I can picture all these British expats gathering in the 1800s to reminisce about their good old days with sheep-dotted emerald hills, low stone walls and grand manor estates. I think that conversation may have perpetuated throughout the generations to diffuse this image as my instinctual assumption of the United Kingdom.

I had the chance the other day to see this all in person again. And a day in the English dales is just as I’d imagined.

My dear sweet friends have been living in Leeds for the past couple months, and they are gracious enough to allow me to drop in on their doorstep without much warning, even making me feel like they’re happy to have their work and plans disrupted (Thank you!!) so of course that’s just what I did. I was travelling again with an uncertain timetable, and wasn’t sure I would be able to come visit, but I’m so happy it all aligned and I was able to arrive.

Here’s a travel tip, though, for anyone thinking of following my footsteps: most of the money I’d saved by booking a standby flight was then eaten up with booking a last minute train ticket from London to Leeds. I wasn’t expecting that to cost so much!! You’d be much better off to arrange your rail pass in advance! Thanks to Jeanette’s suggestion, I found my best option on thetrainline.com.

Anyway, from train tickets back to my train of thought. My unofficial tour guides had a pretty incredible itinerary for us, so I’ll now pass this along as a “One Day in Leeds” suggestion for you.

Start the morning with a walk to city centre, picking up coffee from Cafe Nero and sipping it while continuing to stroll. Take in the shops built into old Arcades and look for the golden owl statues set throughout. Apparently this is the symbol for the city of Leeds…. I meant to look up the story behind that but haven’t made the time for it yet. If anyone knows, please feel free to write in the comments.

After lunch, a drive out to Bolton Abby and the Yorkshire countryside. This is a beautiful drive through the peaceful scenic country – along harrowing narrow roads and blind corners with ridiculously fast speed limits!

Certainly worth the drive, the grounds around the Abby are lovely and lush, and it’s easy to imagine how life may have been centuries ago in this very spot. There are the stones used to make a footpath across the river that the monks from the Abby used to cross, fun to hop across now, as well as ruins from the outcrop buildings. If you prefer to hike, gentle trails run through the woods and along the river.

Photo by Jeff

Before leaving, take a pit stop at the cafe where it would seem a spot of tea and scone would be just right… or you could just get a soda to go if you’re rushing the way I was…

Next stop, a quick stretch of the legs to hike up the “Cow and Calf” outcropping. This was an old quarry, and the sudden stone cliffs towering out of the green hill is something to see. Listen for the bleating of sheep across the way as you walk to the top, and notice the way heather and ferns blanket the ground everywhere except the boulders.

Graffiti seems so much better when it’s 100 years old

Back in Leeds, excellent dinner options seem endless. Or nip into a pub and share your stories over an ale. And there you have it. A great day almost guaranteed!

As I was there to visit friends, we spent an evening around a table with others of their friends. We talked a lot about travel, and life as an expat, and the weather. People always seem to talk about the weather, hey? I remember that part because I said something about how cold it was currently, and one of the girls who lived in the UK made an offhand comment about their weather, saying “it’s not hot here like in Canada” which made me laugh as it’s not a sentence you’d often hear in most places around the world! Canada is known for polar bears!!

I had to run to catch my train back to London, and as much as I was excited to get started on my “real” travels through Turkey, I wished I had more time. But there you have it: One Day in Leeds. I hope you enjoy it, though in my opinion to really get the best you’d need to become friends with my Jeff & Jeanette.

Next time from Istanbul! Ciao!

Stampede City

I’ve said a few times before, I love the city I live in.    And this is especially true in the summer.   The big blue sky, warm air and sunshine, happy friendly people… what’s not to love?!  Also a highlight of the summer – The Calgary Stampede, which is what I’m thinking of today.  Every July, the City of Calgary takes 10 days to host the Stampede; billed as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”   Now, Calgarians are generally split into either loving or loathing the Stampede.  I imagine it must be similar in the major tourist cities, where locals end up inconvenienced by the swarms of crowds on their streets (Amsterdam, I’m thinking of you here!).  I can understand there are some valid reasons a person might not want to be around, so how about I list them quickly, get that out of the way, and then move on to why I love it instead?

So here we go.  A mostly-unbiased opinion of the Negatives:  For ten days each year,

  • Downtown is crowded. The trains are packed, parking sucks, and traffic is slow.
  • Alcohol consumption rockets and public drunkenness becomes normal
  • Modesty seems to take a break (ummm…. #trampede is a real thing)
  • Some people think animals are being taken advantage of.  Animals Resting

And so here is where I need to vehemently disagree.   The rodeo professionals love their animals, and I know absolutely everything is done to protect and care for animals.  For example, one year I was behind-the-scenes in the barns with my friend who was hired to massage the chuckwagon horses.  Yes, Equine Massage Therapy is a booming industry.  And the photo is from this year, where even in the exhibition barns they ensure times throughout the day for the animals to get breaks from all the city slickers gawking.

So maybe you saw those drawbacks, and have decided that’s enough to make you want to run for the hills to avoid it all.  That’s ok, may I recommend Jasper or Banff?  But if you’re still with me, even for curiosity’s sake, please keep reading.

Personally, I automatically love the Calgary Stampede because of my positive childhood memories.  My family would come to the city for a day, and we’d delightfully dizzy ourselves on the fairground rides and cheer my Dad on as he won us plush toys at the carnie games.  (To this day, I can’t walk past a ‘strong man’ game without flashing back to him)  We’d watch the rodeo and chuckwagon race highlights on tv every night after dinner, crowding around and crowing when our pick did well.

Another reason why the ten days of Stampede are something I look forward to is the camaraderie this city experiences.  Picture it a little like Cowboy Christmas; with decorations up at businesses citywide, special music played everywhere, staff parties, and days off from work!  Just substitute carols with country twang.   Even without entering the Stampede grounds there is a festive feel throughout the city.  We get to wear jeans to work almost regardless of industry, and cowboy boots are the exact right accessory to every outfit.  My cousin, Erin, demonstrates that perfectly, below.IMG_8123

Erin's Instagram post
erin.slemp: The only place it’s acceptable to wear all denim and eat poutine perogies… #calgarystampede #canadiantuxedo #stampede2018 #calgaryalberta

She brings up another great point: The midway food is an attraction all its own.  I personally can’t go without at least one corn dog (battered and in a pickle this year!) and the mini donuts with cinnamon sugar, but I also snarfed down some deep-fried coffee balls, brisket and poutine, and charcoal ice cream.  IMG_1299

Snapseed

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Me and more cousins

Much more than the midway, though.  The Calgary Stampede is a cultural bridge, reminding us of our heritage as a ranching and rodeo frontier town, as well as the Indigenous roots of the Canadian Prairies.  I took some time this year to explore more of that, and I am absolutely in awe the First Nations set up at the Stampede.  This is exactly the type of thing I would flock to any time I travel to a foreign country – representation of the uniqueness of the cultural history – and I was awestruck seeing this again from my own hometown.

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Tipi skyline
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Watching a traditional dance
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Elder blessing
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traditional cooking

A quick video clip from my cell phone, so my apologies for the lack of quality production, but I had to show you a snippet of one of the dances.  Make sure you have sound on to hear the singers from the drum circle just outside the image.

wow.

You know, this far into the post and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet of everything that’s on offer at the Stampede.  Try learning to two-step at one of the beer gardens, attend a concert, watch the rodeo and events, learn about current agriculture, worry about the motocross daredevils hired to entertain, view the incredible western artworks, watch the grandstand show or the marching show band, and go to one of the FREE pancake breakfasts or (and!) BBQ lunches that are everywhere across the city.  The list goes on and on.   You’ll need to come here and see it for yourself next July.Stampede active

After ten days of “Yahoo!” excitement, the dust is settling, and the city is returning to a normal urban centre.  Boots and hats are tucked far into the back of closets again, safe until next year.  We start to pick up on all the work that was missed, but first all the stories are swapped around the water cooler.   Love it or hate it, The Calgary Stampede gives everyone a story to tell.

Calgary Ali
Calgary Ali

Sunset on the Calgary Stampede

 

 

 

 

 

Little Trips

I’ve been feeling a little mopey about the fact that I haven’t been travelling lately, and can give about a hundred reasons why “I deserve” to feel this way… (just look at what I was doing a year ago!) but then it was pointed out to me that it’s not an entirely true fact that I haven’t travelled – more so an opinion of mine.  And so, I guess I have to admit that yes, I did spend a week the Dominican Republic, then a day in Panama, and weekends in Vegas, Jasper, and Seattle.   Fine – if we’re going to get technical I supposed I still have had a pretty great summer adventuring around.  Why is it that I always feel the need to see more, go further, lose myself somewhere new??  (I could easily spiral into all sorts of ridiculous thoughts like; ‘My identity is a traveller: therefore do I lose my identity and fade away when I’m not away?’)

Glossing right past the silly existential questions for now, I want to share some of the moments that stood out for me this summer.  My most recent jaunt was to Seattle for a quick work event, and while I won’t bore you with those details I will tell about my day exploring Seattle’s famous sights.   I may have a grownup job now but I still really enjoy my aimless explorations, and so when I travel on my own I very happily throw planning aside just to see what comes my way.  I chatted with the hotel clerk and found out that I could take the free shuttle to the airport, then hop on the train from there to the centre where I would find the city’s highlights, so that’s exactly where I started.  Stop number one for me was the famous Pike’s Place Market.  I knew it was busy, but I have to admit some shock at JUST HOW BUSY it is!  I did a bit of digging after, and discovered that it’s in the top 40 destinations by visitor number in the whole world.  Crazy! ( Tourism stats )  I liked seeing it, though, even if I was almost equally amazed by the people watching as I was by the oldest continuously operated farmers market in the US.   My wanders took me through the market, along the piers, downtown to coffee shops, past the Space Needle and back to the water.  It’s a pretty city indeed on a sunny August day!

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Moving back in time, I had a previous work event that brought me to Las Vegas.  I’ve been there several times before so this didn’t hold the same wonder and awe for me, but I still had a great time walking the famous strip after dark to marvel at the neon lights, and sitting by the pool with a novel the next morning before my flight home.

 

More exciting for me was July and exploring my own ‘backyard’ in Alberta.  Have you ever been to Jasper before?  It’s stunning.  You should plan a visit.  Even though it’s an easy and scenic 5 hour drive from my front door, I haven’t been since childhood – I generally go to Banff instead, less than 2 hours away from me.  But a long weekend camping trip in the cutest little cabins has me convinced I’ll be back again!IMG_0653

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Continuing in my July adventures at home, I took in some time at the Calgary Stampede.  If this is something else you haven’t heard of, look it up and plan to come.  It’s a huge city-wide party, a cultural homage to our heritage, a thrilling competition and vibrant midway all packed together. ( Calgary Stampede )   And I just love it!

 

Prior to all this I kicked off my summer 2017 down South with a little quality beach time. Thankfully my cousin decided to get married in the Caribbean so I had a chance to visit Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  I wouldn’t typically chose to go to an All-Inclusive resort, but I was thrilled with the chance to go and celebrate with family and friends.  So often I’m alone when I’m away from home and this made it an extra fantastic treat to be in the middle of a huge group of friends this time.  And now if I ever go to resorts again, I know I’ll want about 40 people I adore there with me.  At least.

Going into this week in Punta Cana, I knew that this would be my last trip with the freedom to just book my own employee-pass standby flights, so I wanted to make the most of it.  I didn’t know exactly how I’d be getting home until the day prior – when I saw that I could fly directly to Panama.  OF COURSE that called my name!  Spending time in Panama would mean that I’ve been to each of the North American/Central America countries and I just couldn’t resist.  (and, I plan to celebrate that milestone again if I ever go to each Caribbean nation.  I haven’t done that yet!)   I didn’t have long, but I made the most of it in Panama by choosing a charming hostel in the Casco Viejo Old Town in central Panama City.  This is the epicentre of the tourism in the city and gave me the freedom to walk and explore.  I loved walking along the bay and taking in the contrast between the glittering new high-rises and the old Latin/Spanish legacy.

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Pretty good for only 14 hours in the country, hey?   I hope I get a chance to go back and see more of Panama.

So looking back with a little more gratitude, I can clearly see that I had a great summer and even one worthy of dusting off my travel blog.    But let me tell you, I have higher hopes for my fall!

 

 

The More Things Change…

Remember that old cliche saying – The more things change the more they stay the same ?   I’ve been thinking that quite a bit over the past week, and it’s never rung so true for me as it has recently.   I used to consider it a silly expression, but I think life taught me not to be so quick to judge the old folk wisdom.   Here’s a recap:   Seemingly everything in my life has changed over this past year, and much of that within the last few months.  One of those changes was my work, and I wrote about this major career change I was beginning about a month ago; yet here I am again tonight in a hotel room in a city far from home, doing a new version of the same job I have for the last decade.  It’s amazing!  I had a quick conversation with a friend about this bizarre twist in my career and was reminded “you’re good at it – roll with it!” so that’s exactly what I’m doing…. and soaking up every moment because as far as I know this is still a temporary blip rather than a mainstay of my new job. 

I was able to take a day during one layover to explore Hollywood, California for an afternoon.   I’ve been to Los Angeles before, but this was my first time walking down the Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame.  My friend Jenilee also had the time off, so we set out together to see what we could see.  The day was a little chilly,  but as long as we did our best to stay in the sunshine and avoid the wind it was still pleasant enough to be walking outside – a nice treat for late December according to a Canadian! 

Right when we first arrived, we were greeted by an Art Deco style monument.  I had never before heard of this – I’m not sure it’s one of the famous landmarks – but with its replicas in silver of four of Hollywood’s early screen stars it was a nice start to the Walk of Fame. 

“The Four Ladies of Hollywood” monument

Next step brought us to the stars… and some comical moments as I realized that along this crowded stretch of street NO ONE was watching where they were going!  We all had our heads down, reading the names of the Stars as we walked along.   I think for every celebrity name I heard called out by tourists wanting to be excited there were almost as many “excuse me” and collisions narrowly missed.  

Watch your feet
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Is it narcissism or normal to search for my name on the stars?
 

One guy picked this crowded location as his spot to demonstrate, so for about 45 minutes we heard his chant amplified through speakers and a smattering of participants.   I don’t think he likes the upcoming government very much…. 

Continue walking further away from the largest concentration of people, and found we almost had the streets to ourselves.  All the better to study the stars and surrounding architecture!

Jenilee
There’s something about this building I love
Faded glamour
Art Deco awesomeness

City skyline
Christmas Day on Hollywood Blvd
 

The rest of the week brought more change – time in 3 different cities – but again the changes are familiar in some way.   I’ll write more about that again another time!  

Seeding Good Luck

I still have two days in Bangkok at the end of my trip that I want to write about.  They were incredible, and a very different experience from my first days in Bangkok at the beginning, before the tour.  I remember so many different snippets of stories that I had begun drafting in my mind while we were there, and I was excited to share the contrasts with what I had written a month previously when I was first experiencing the city.  So why haven’t I written that?

As has been my pattern already, if I get behind in blogging I end up procrastinating.  When I let too many days pass from the emotions and thoughts, what I actually felt in the moments I write about, my posts just end up seeming stale and forced, a list of what I had seen and done.  Dull.  So I avoid it, and my blog.  Self-perpetuating non-motion.   To shake that now I think I’ll just chatter about what I am feeling currently, and hopefully as I go on I can find a way to loop it back to the topic at hand: travel and the Thai capital.

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This week I’ve been feeling a little untethered.  My 5 month leave of absence from work is almost over, so this era of being a full-time traveller is wrapping up (for now??…).  At the same time nearly all of my other external identity markers have also disappeared or changed, and it’s a bit hard to handle all that all at once.   I spent years defining myself by my job:  I was a flight attendant, not only that, but a Corporate Flight Attendant.  When I return to work next week I have a significant career change that I’ll need to wrap my head around.  I used to be a Wife; I’m not anymore, and tied to that I used to be a Homeowner until we sold our house in the suburbs last month….  Writing this paragraph has sparked a memory for me, and I had to pause to dig through my notes for a quote that was given to me by a friend a few months ago.  It fits here for me now.

Each misfortune you encounter will carry in it the seed of tomorrow’s good luck.  – Og Mandino

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I know those little good luck seeds are already germinating in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things spring up in the near future.  And in the meantime the best way I know how to keep myself sane and happy is to dream about travel.  It really is the best medicine for me!   The picture I used for this quote is from a courtyard at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple in Bangkok, and it reminds me again of my time there.  My first few days were all about touring temples and streets full of food and vendors and massage spas and backpackers. (you can read about Better than expected Bangkok) And my final days in Bangkok: restaurants bursting with personality and shopping and expats.

We were able to meet up with a friend who has lived there for the past four years, and she was a perfect host and guide!  It’s aways fun to laugh with an old friend so we would have enjoyed ourselves regardless, but Corrie knew so many great spots we were almost run off our feet trying to cram it all in.

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speaking of feet
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Ali and Corrie

Here we are stopping for a quick selfie at the MBK Centre.  This place is a massive, seven storey mall used by locals and tourists alike.  I don’t even feel like I’m exaggerating when I say it has everything!  I definitely made good on my plan to wait and make the bulk of my purchases on my last day before going home!  Souvenirs such as curry mixes, tea, exotic fruit candies, clothing, jewelry and watches…. my list goes on.  Tricia and I had to get reallllllly creative in packing to get everything in our luggage for the flights home!  And when we weren’t shopping, we were eating.  Which I love!

 

Look at that – I did circle back and steer this post to Bangkok!  I know it’s a little light on details and funny stories this time, but considering the mood I was in when I began writing this post and how much better I feel now, I’m calling this a personal win anyway.  Thanks for reading along with me.

Stunning Koh Samui

If I ever run away from home (ok, if I ever run away from home again) and you need to find me for some reason keep this spot in mind as the first place to look for me.  And pack a swimsuit because chances are when you find me, you’ll forget about why you were so keen on dragging me back.  I’ll save a spot on the sand for you.

Koh Samui, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, is one of those places that’s probably on millions of screen savers as the perfect beach paradise bored workers daydream about.  And it’s even better in real life.

Here’s a quick disclaimer about this post, though:  I spent a lot of time in a bikini and I’ll be including pictures.  If that’s going to be a problem you should probably skip this post, and return to my blog next week when I’ve returned to my modesty….

I already mentioned in my last post that I spent a lot of time on the beach here; you may remember that I ruined my iPhone this way.  Tricia and I had 6 glorious days where the cumulative extent of our experience could be summed as such: brunch overlooking the water, beach, pool, beach, dinner overlooking the water, fall asleep to the sound of the air conditioner. (I wanted to say waves but I promised I’d be fully truthful in this blog!)   Oh.  If anyone is trying to plan a honeymoon, apparently this is what you should do.  Someone should get to experience this as romantic!!

White powder sand beaches.  Crystal clear turquoise water.  Lush forest and dramatic bolders.  Teeny bikinis.   Yes.

View of the beach
Looking great!
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Feeling Great!
Us in the sun
Is it more artsy (acceptable) to post without colour?

I shouldn’t say it, but sometimes I wonder why Tricia or I ever bother to wear clothes… (sorry, I did warn you that my modesty was on hiatus…)

There was one day we experienced more than just the beaches.  Good thing, because I’m sure there’s so much more to the island that one could see, if one were to drag themselves away from the perfect coastline.   For example, the Big Buddha. Living up to its apt moniker, this beautiful gold statue is a sight to see.  It’s not my religion, but I love visiting these temples and monuments.  I’m continually fascinated by other cultures; and learning about the way that religion, history, and geography has shaped the lives of the people around me never fails to amaze.

Big Buddha
Big Buddha
Smaller Buddhas surrounded the base of Big Buddha
Bells surrounded the temple complex
Ringing the bells
Temple top

After spending the afternoon with Big Buddha we were ready to get back to the water, and fortunately found a great restaurant right on the water.  The views bathed in late golden sunlight were equally as delicious as the meals – my kind of place for sure!

Tamarina Bistro & Bar

Sighing over Singapore 

Today’s post is starting out with an early morning airplane selfie… the shine in my eyes showing my excitement to be flying again after so many bus journeys lately!  (Well, that, and also I think I had a grease smudge on my camera from my breakfast croissantwich.  Tempted to leave the smudge – who needs a fancy beautifying app when a fingerprint over the lens hides wrinkles?!) 

Said flight was on JetStar Pacific, taking us from Ho Chi Minh to Singapore.  The final destination of the day was actually Phuket, but we broke up our travels with a long layover – just enough time to get a feel for the city highlights.    

With 6 hours to spare, the first thing we did after clearing customs in Singapore was drop our backpacks at the Left Luggage lockers and bought a train ticket to get ourselves downtown.  (One little asside I’ll mention here: even though the individuals we met in Singapore were all very lovely, customer service staff seemed less inclined to be helpful.  At the airport and again at the station we would get to the front of a line only to be told in a disinterested voice to “go to the counter there”.   This happened about 6 different times!)

Finally on the train I alternated between idly people-watching the commuters and reading the notices posted on the walls.  I wanted to show you, but one of the first signs I saw said No Taking Pictures.  While on the train it’s also important not to talk loudly or obscenely, don’t carry strong smelling food, no eating or drinking ($500 fine), no smoking ($1000 fine), no flammable goods ($5000 fine).   The effort to create a utopian state seems to work from a quick glance by an outsider; but later in the day our cabbie seemed to hint the control went a bit to far.  He said there are people out to watch all the time and will report anyone for the slightest infraction.  I’m curious, but I don’t know enough about the freedoms or lack thereof in the country to question for further comment.

This may seem strange after the previous sentence, but I couldn’t help but love Singapore while I was there.  I felt like I could easily live in the bustling downtown as an expat for a year or two, near a beautiful harbour and world famous gardens.  I just might google job opportunities in Singapore when I get home…. 

When Tricia and I first left the train and began walking around Marina Bay I couldn’t stop ooohing over it all.  I saw joggers on the boardwalk around the bay, and busy business people taking their lunch breaks on outdoor patios.  The gardens, of course, and the museums and the skyscrapers with cranes and cruise ships docked in the distance.   It was love at first sight for me.   Like any new love, in my besottedness I made some bad decisions; namely ordering an $18 drink just because I wanted a Singapore Sling in Singapore.  I could feel the bartender rolling his eyes at me from my table outside, but the waiter was happy!  I didn’t even like the drink, now I’m the one rolling my eyes at myself….

Skip the Sling

And without further ado, my shots from a quick walk around between flights.

On my way to pose nicely, but I ended up liking this shot best. Thanks Tricia
These are real – not plastic! photo credit to Tricia
Enjoying the sky gardens
Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion
Marina Bay Sands hotel


I wish I had captured more photos, but I chose to leave my camera behind and walk around lighter for the day.    So you might not know it from this post but I still remember:  Singapore is a beautiful place!