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!

 

 

Crabby Cabbies

This post starts off with a disclaimer: the following may not be as nice as the usual tone of my average posts.  But I am sitting in the backseat of a taxi right now, hoping I’m on my way to the airport, still trying to quell my tense unease.
It started about 10 minutes ago when I walked out of my very fancy hotel room, in a major American city and right downtown, into the misty rainy night.   I saw three taxi cabs at the curb right in front of me, and I hesitated for a moment in case there was a queue. I tried to make eye contact with the drivers of each to see if there was an order, and when none seemed to move I took another step forward. The driver of the cab directly in front of me smiled, so I started towards that car. He opened the trunk and just as he was lifting my bag there was a furious blare of a horn behind us. For a split second I instinctively thought a car crash was happening in the intersection, but as my eyes registered the angry arms and clenched fists I saw it was clearly no accident. Into our stunned immobility started walking a sight that added another layer to my disbelief of the current events. Long white hair, stringy, uneven and matted, topped a faded black denim coat layered open over a green plaid flannel jacket and dirty t-shirt. The most nightmarish Santa-in-opposite you could imagine.  This was the other driver, coming out of a branded and licensed city taxi cab, livid over an accidental slight. The first driver set down my bag and started backing away with apologies in an attempt to appease.  I stopped him and said I didn’t want to ride in a car with such a furious driver.  By this time the doorman of the hotel appeared and tried to diffuse the situation.    The angry driver was placated and I was informed he had been in line and was the next due for a passenger. I shrank back, and said again I wasn’t comfortable getting into that car now on my own and I would like take another ride. To which the doorman asked “hey, you spooked her. Are you ok to drive?” as he Placed.My.Bag.In.The.Trunk!  I still didn’t move and was protesting again when I realized that I seemed to be the only one fazed by this outburst.   I suddenly noticed a uniformed security guard standing about a metre away, eyes down, and many other people at the hotel entrance and on the sidewalk. The doorman’s voice pulled back at my attention and I heard him say softly “it’s ok now, he’ll be alright. Get in, you’ll be fine.”

So I did. 

And my stomach clenched with unease the entire time. 

In the time it took me to write the above paragraphs I arrived at my destination but the story isn’t finished yet.  At least now you know I’m safe.  The ride was anything but fine, though, with my internal monologue churning; asking myself if this guy was drunk (probably not) or homeless (so what if he is? It’s good he’s working, right!?) to wondering if I should worry about being kidnapped (doubtful) or not arriving at the airport on time (much more likely).  The first five or so minutes of the drive passed with the car giving the little chime warning of a seatbelt undone.  I watched as he spent a few minutes reaching behind him and fussing with the seatbelt he had fastened behind him, then suddenly he tells me “I’m not going anywhere” as he stops the car in the middle of a residential street. My fight-or-flight response revved high again as he opens his door and got out; and I’m not sure it was actually relief when I saw he was only getting up to stretch the still-buckled shoulder harness across him.  As we drove off again he explained to me that “this seatbelt was the trickiest one he’d ever seen.”  We lurched on in the darkness, the car constantly changing speed as he see-sawed his foot on the gas pedal with sporadic regularity.  Any time I would look up at him or our surroundings I would imagine myself peeping through my fingers, though of course I was much too polite to actually let him know I was terrified, other than a quiet frightened gasp that escaped my lips once.  He cursed to himself after veering for an exit and missing it, which prompted me to stop writing and look again at my google maps. “Did we make a wrong turn?” I asked him sweetly when I saw we were not where we should be and he grumbled he missed the North Access road in a manner suggesting someone else was at fault. I watched him as he hunched forward over the steering wheel to peer out past the windshield wipers and rain and I spent the rest of the drive simultaneously in silent prayer, writing the beginning of this post, AND watching my map to help guide him. 
An eternity later, I finally stepped out of the car and collected my suitcase, nearly 45 minutes after I walked out of the hotel. It seemed exponentially longer than the 30-35 minutes I had expected! I asked the driver his name, and made a mental note of the car number and company with the full intention of writing a complaint to the company and also the hotel…. maybe I still will, but by now I’m not so sure. As I sit safely in my cozy airplane seat, writing out the rest of this, my main emotion is sadness for this driver.  I feel bad for him, because as I spoke to him briefly he seemed to brighten, giving me a glimpse that he’s probably had a very hard life and I worry how my complaint may affect him. Then I think that even though he may need the job, should he really be driving the public?? I don’t know yet what I’ll do…. 

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The ironic part of me writing out this story (Entirely True Story!) is that I had been mulling a bit about crabby cabbies already before this happened. Last week I was on the other side of the USA in a small city with a decidedly back-woods vibe. (I’m choosing to withhold names, obviously)  Again, as it was tonight, that morning I was alone leaving a hotel and on my way to an airplane.  When the taxi finally pulled up, my first thought was to giggle and look around if I was being pranked.  The car was an ancient rust bucket painted lime green.  I could smell old cigarettes before I even got in, and as the driver opened his door to stow my suitcase he drawled “I hope you haven’t been waiting too long… I had to stop and make sure my Momma ate her lunch.”  This was going to be my most crazy cab story – until tonight!  During our short drive he proceeded to tell me all about his family squabbles; a nephew that stole his mother’s car, a good-for-nothin’ brother, and his sweet momma with her dementia.  All this and much more I learned over the blast of his old classic rock radio, while I did my best to nod and not look too shocked.  When I handed him my visa to pay he launched into a tirade against big banks, and how he gets charged for each credit purchase… At least he was sweet in his complaining.  He spoke to me as if I were a trusted co-conspirator with him, us against my the world, and the grin he gave me when I was able to find enough cash to pay with instead of my card made me glad I was able to.

I feel like I should wrap up with saying that this is not my normal transportation experience.  I haven’t run the stats, but for effect I’d say 95% of the taxi and Uber drivers I’ve had have been great, 4.9% have just been fine, and only 0.1% make me worry.     But a good driver isn’t likely to make a good blog story! 

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.  

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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!

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There’s something about this building I love
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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!  

Angkor Wat Again

It’s -26 degrees celsius where I live right now, and as if that isn’t horrific enough we have the distinct displeasure of a windchill bringing the feel of the temperature to -33.   Yes that’s actually true and not a typo.  I have a cup of tea, a big cozy blanket, and blinds over the window so I don’t have to see the wintery misery outside; I’m directing my focus solely to happier memories of warmer climates!  And my first trip down memory lane brought me back to Cambodia, which I remember being more along the lines of 30 degrees celsius above zero instead of below.   Ahhhhh, feeling warmer already….

But I don’t think I’m going to write much tonight since I’m feeling much more visual than verbal.  Instead how about a few more of my pictures from Angkor Wat out of the 250 or so I took that day?

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These women came to Angkor Wat to celebrate a Buddhist Holy day.
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Temples hidden in the Jungle
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Ta Prohm temple ruins
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Gentle Guardians
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Ancient Hindu carvings on a temple wall
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216 faces of Buddha carved at Bayon, Angkor Thom
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This sweet Buddhist monk
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Serenity
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Just past a “Beware of Monkey Attack” sign, this cutie appeared
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A tourist (me) with a shot of another tourist taking photos of other tourists
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Angkor Wat

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!

Snapshots of the Canadian Arctic

Next week I’ll be jetting off to South East Asia so pretty soon I’ll have all sorts of new posts, but right now I want to run back through my archives and write about some old experiences.  I missed #ThrowbackThursday… how about #FondmemoryFriday ?  Can that be a thing??  #Way-back-whenWeekend ?   Whatever we’re calling it, I’m taking you along as I reminisce on my time North of the Arctic Circle.

My memory was triggered last week when I visited the National Gallery in Ottawa and viewed the Inuit Art exhibit.  Beautiful collection, by the way.   I think I’ve mentioned in this blog that my previous career took me to all sorts of locations, and one of those was the Canadian Arctic.  This is a unique world unlike anything else I have ever experienced and I consider myself spectacularly fortunate to have had the chance to be there.

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This map is from the Inuit Art Exhibit.  I added in the stars at the communities I’ve been to

In 2007 and 2008 the company I worked for had a contract with one of the airlines serving remote Arctic communities, and I would spend two weeks at a time on rotation up North.  Dramatic landscapes, extreme temperatures, different languages, new foods – there were many times I had to stop and remind myself I was still in my own home country!  (At least until I started talking with someone again: I found Canadian Inuit people to be very generous and friendly!)    In summer the sun doesn’t set, and 24 hour daylight is something that takes some time to get used to.   But that’s a much easier adjustment than winter, where the constant darkness is made even worse by the incomprehensible temperatures.  (Negative 45 degrees Celsius in not uncommon during winter!)

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A 10 minute walk in Yellowknife left me frosty
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Beautiful Spring day in Yellowknife
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Cambridge Bay, March 2008
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Glaciers and mountains
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Glaciers, lakes and mountains
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Flying over glaciers and mountains
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Pond Inlet Airstrip
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Pond Inlet in Summer
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Kids of Clyde River
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This shop always made me giggle – I love the irony
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Iqaluit, Baffin Island, in August.  Notice all the icebergs in the bay
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An Inukshuk marking the way
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Something magic about the Arctic

 

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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