Travel planning and Traipsing through Canada

Current status: hanging out with Kim Crawford on the couch, listening to Spotify and mucking about on the internet. Not all that different from a typical Tuesday night except that I am in an Airbnb in Ottawa and there are no dogs.

I’ve quit Facebook, quit my job, and taken leave of my husband and animals and home to travel to India and Nepal but I lined up a bit of “practice” travelling first, wrapping up work remotely and visiting friends. The day before I left a friend told someone I was off to India the next day and then I had to backtrack a bit ruefully to explain that I wasn’t going to be there for a little while still. Leg #1 was Seattle to White Rock to visit my mom, leg #2 was to Vancouver, leg #3 Montreal, leg #4 here to Ottawa, and then I will carry on to leg #5 Toronto, leg #6 London (with a layover in Iceland) and finally Mumbai from where I will make my way north to Delhi (as well as east and west and a bit farther north, and finally home through Hong Kong. I can write that now because although I’ve been on the road for 10 days, I only just booked my flight home.

It’s been kind of exciting, really. As a project manager (and therefore usually a super-planner) I often make reservations months in advance but this trip I am kind of making things up as I go along and that has meant some scrambling (for visas, passport renewal, giving my company enough notice, figuring out outfits that will work across cultures and climates and landscapes, etc.) but it turns out that most of these things can be done in a rush and / or online – something that I am finding out at a whole new level now that I have lost my wallet.

New credit and debit cards overnighted to me? Don’t mind if I do. New green card and Nexus rushed to me so I can get back in the country later? Yes, please.

I consider myself a fairly seasoned traveller so this feels like an embarrassing and rookie mistake on a terrifying level. I had an errand at the embassy in Ottawa where they require you to bring no bags, sunnies, or cell phones so I was literally carrying everything in my pockets, in the pouring rain, in a country that I feel safe in so I wasn’t really on my guard. I managed the errand without incident and then bought a snack at a stand. I am pretty sure that I left my wallet on the counter as I added food and packaging and napkins to my load, but I didn’t realize until a few blocks later when I had thrown the trash out and put my hands in my pockets. I ran back to the kiosk who had not seen anything left (or anyone come after me), then searched in the garbage bins in case I had thrown it out with the wrappers, but no luck. I don’t even think there was much money in it, but it did have my green card which ended up meaning many more visits to embassies over the course of the trip. But I was so grateful that it happened in Canada, that my passport and cash were with my luggage, and that I was able to carry on.

And this was on top of dropping my work laptop in the airport in Vancouver. It works but I need to return it to the office in London and so in Montreal, I spent a good portion of my time trying to get it fixed.  It was an ordeal of genius bar appointments and working out of internet cafes or taking meetings on my phone but eventually, it all worked out. Hopefully, all of the bugs are getting worked out of this trip before I head overseas.

Travel is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly…that is how we grow., and even these experiences build character and resilience. I try to be grateful, but sometimes it takes time. So, instead of grumbling, here are some of the many new and / or cherished experiences I’ve had this week while travelling through Canada:

VANCOUVER:
Sorting through all kinds of old nostalgia and photos with my mom, a great sleep with her tiny dog curled up in my armpit (as compared with my mediocre sleep most nights cramming between my two enormous, snoring bulldogs at home), a ride to the bus stop on the corner (literally 3 blocks away) so she could see me off, the ahhhh-mazing Apple customer service and quality program fixing my laptop on the road – for free, high quality delicious and sustainable sushi at Hapa Izakaya, inventive vegetarian Chinese comfort food at Bao Bei, delicious and creative cocktails in beautiful rooms at Nightingale and The Botanist, and spending time with my sister who also gave me a ride to the airport.

MONTREAL:
Being met at the airport by my lovely friend – who I’ve not seen in a while and who then fed me all kinds of delicious food and wine, snuggles and kisses and playtime with the second loaner dog of the trip, happening across an amazing Chagall exhibit at the art gallery and another Amazonian one at the archeology museum, surprising sunshine allowing for wine and burrata on a terasse with a good book, more wine and deliciousness at Vin Papillon, and then even more wine and more deliciousness at Nora Grey, teaching the loaner dog to waltz, brunch at the spectacular Satay Bros. and finally coming across an urban “cabane à sucre” in a park.

OTTAWA:
Arriving at my Airbnb to find it so charming and lovely and welcoming that I didn’t even want to leave…and that was before I saw that my hostess had left me some chocolate, ducking in out of the rain at a cosy pub to have some seriously good pizza and beer.

TORONTO:
Having my credit cards arrive over night – with a photo that my husband had included of him and all of our animals, catching up with more good friends I haven’t seen in a while, delicious cocktails and dinner at Byblos, mind-blowingly amazing peach beer at Momofuku (and lunch to go with), the availability and ease of hailing cabs, interesting and sumptuous flavours at Banu Iranian restaurant, and cafes with good coffee that haven’t minded me hiding out from hours from the rain.

I am feeling very loved, cared for and connected…and this is another reason one must travel – so that we can spend time connecting with people in person. As I have learned from working from home this winter, video chat and IM just don’t cut it.

Finally, being away from home is an opportunity to appreciate the things one normally takes for granted. I am so happy to have my high quality pack / boots / Goretex with me, my Canadian passport, to be free of injuries and allergies, to be pretty good at adapting, and to be hosted by so many lovely people (both because it helps my travel budget but also because it’s so good to spend time with people). I have also loved and needed the downtime in between staying with friends, appreciated the flexibility to work remotely, and of course to have enough health and wealth and courage to be able to take this trip in the first place.

Next stop: Londontown.

June Trembled Like a Butterfly

Hammock

“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.” ~Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Sometime in June while I was living in my car, I saw that piece of poem written on a sign. I sighed happily (as I often do when I encounter unexpected poetry) and then wondered if June was trembling because of anticipation, or fear, or just speed…and then it was gone.

Maceo
I don’t remember the first time I saw the city of Vancouver. I was probably too young. I was born there, in Grace hospital (that burnt down and was rebuilt as Women & Children’s) but grew up in the suburb of Langley. The first few visits to the city that I do remember felt like a long journey – over the big orange Port Mann Bridge and then a seemingly endless stretch of nothingness until we were off the freeway. But even when I was asleep (probably most of the time), I always knew we had reached the city because I woke up when we stopped at 1st and Commercial and I would marvel at the gritty urbanness of the gun shop at that intersection, fiercely gated and barred up. Much later I lived right across the street from where it had been and felt completely safe, always wondering if I had just made it up. Our trips into town seemed to revolve around something my dad had forgotten at his office on Hastings Street or a Chinese food dinner at either Wok With Yan or the Beijing House. I remember trying so hard to get my hands around the chopsticks and playing next to the koi pond in the floor, but I am suspicious of memory. Even though I can picture Wok With Yan’s restaurant where the White Spot is now on Georgia Street, I know I was very young. I feel like I must be getting something wrong – not least because I haven’t seen either of my parents eat Chinese food in maybe 25 years. To think of them making such a long drive into town with small children to eat it boggles the mind.

Vancouver
The last time I saw Vancouver was at Crab Park early in the morning. I took a photo because it was gorgeous out and it felt poignant but I have so many photos of that dog park – a place that I have been to almost daily this past year. This last time though, we were in a rush. We had cleaners to deal with, cars to pack, and then a whole lot of paperwork to fill out at the border because finally, after a long wait, we were moving to Seattle.

Riley
I’ve always thought of Vancouver as my home. I read a poem once in which ‘home’ was defined by wherever you had your heart broken and in a way, I feel that that is true…home is where you had your formative experiences. I lived in the West End, East Van, Cambie Village, Commercial Drive, Main Street, Oak Street and Gastown. I ate at SO many restaurants (sometimes even consecutive businesses in the same storefront) and blogged about a great many of them, hiked in the forests, dove all over the coast, got married, worked for several different companies (as well as started my own), and made lots of friends…for all of these reasons Vancouver will be home but for many of those same reasons, it was also a good time to leave.

Moving van
It’s always been a dream of mine to live abroad and I’ve dabbled in it (multiple home-stays in France and Germany and a lot of travel) and prepared for it (I’m a certified TESL instructor and a divemaster and I have a filing cabinet worth of books and maps) but there has always been something holding me back…a relationship, finances, poor timing.

Lake City
But we are finally here, just barely abroad, and that’s ok. It’s a step. From here we can go elsewhere and even this border hop has had its share of paperwork and problems. Had we moved to say, Poland or Japan, we would currently be standing in a drug store hoping we were buying toothpaste and not hemorrhoid cream, walking everywhere for fear of driving (or taking transit and ending up in another city), and eating all kinds of interesting new food. Instead, we are driving around in our same cars (minus one motorcycle and one truck), speaking English, eating sushi and burgers at the two decent restaurants in our neighbourhood and when we get lost, we pull up google maps to tell us where to go. Easy Peasy. We are glad of the adventure, in any case and ready for all the next ones.

Seattle

A better quote for this month might be this famous one:

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

~Anais Nin

Home
Wish us luck. And come visit.