Archive for the 'travel' Category

I think I’ve gone soft

I used to be an awesome traveler. But, as mine and Matt’s trip gets closer, I’m starting to second guess my travel skills. It’s been five years since I’ve done any travel that required a flight other than business trips and I think I’ve gone soft.

On business trips, I usually get put up in a posh hotel and I can often finagle AT LEAST one steak dinner out of the whole experience. But, for our trip to Europe, our budget is significantly smaller than my employer’s. We’re going the traditional young traveler route and staying in hostels most of the time. We don’t have a whole lot of spending money and plan on taking advantage of the kitchens in our hostels so we don’t have to eat out for every meal. We do have an apartment to ourselves for our stay in the Scottish Highlands, but most of our trip will be spent in bunk rooms.

On my last travel adventure, I spent 4 months in India and I grew accustomed to staying in accommodations that left a lot to be desired in the comfort, cleanliness and safety departments (also pretty much every other department, for the record). In once place in Pondicherry, we squished 5 to a room and everyone got bed bug bites. In another place in Rajasthan, I paid $1/night for a bed in a 12-bed room with one shower and a hole in the floor for a toilet. I also got used to squat toilets, carrying my own toilet paper and having showers using a bucket and a plastic cup (I even helped a friend dye her hair with this bucket/plastic cup method. Why someone would dye their hair while in India is a story for another day).

In fact, I once stayed in an actual shanty (sort of):

But, I have decidedly gone soft. Travel nowadays means business travel where I get my own hotel room in a reputable hotel with lots of fluffy white towels and room service if I so choose. I get a king size bed to myself and once, I stayed in a hotel that had those fancy sleep number beds where I got to play with the controller making the bed softer and firmer while I watched the Real Housewives of Orange County.

I had this view of Vancouver when I traveled there for a conference last year:

And now, I’m off to Europe and I don’t know how well I’ll handle bringing my own towels and bunking with 10 other people. I’d like to think I can still cut it and carry my backpack like a pro, but I worry that I like 400 thread count sheets and free wifi WAY too much for my own good.

But, I think getting a once in a lifetime chance to ride an old steam train through the Scottish Highlands (Hogwarts Express!!!), see Buckingham Palace and drink beer in an Edinburgh pub makes up for the fact that I may have to back some ear plugs and sleep in a dorm room.


Planning for vacation is *almost* as much fun as the vacation itself

The days are booked off and the flights are paid for. It’s official, Matt and I are finally getting a chance to travel together.

Matt and I both love to travel and we’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of opportunities to do so. But, we’ve never had an opportunity to travel overseas together.

In fact, for the first year of our relationship, we were both so good at traveling on our own that we spent 6 of those 12 months apart. I spent 4 months in India and he spent 2 months gallivanting around Europe.

But, it seems after 6 years together, our time has come to upgrade our road trips and camping adventures to a vacation involving an airplane! We’re off to the UK in June and I couldn’t be more excited. We haven’t solidified our plans beyond the flights, but we are tentatively planning some time in London and then we are probably going to head to the Scottish highlands.

London is Matt’s favourite city of all time. He has visited a number of time with his family and on his own and he is super excited to be going back. I’ve never been to London and I’m really looking forward to him showing me around.

As for the Scottish Highlands, we kind-of, sort-of arbitrarily chose this area of the UK because of this:


Why, yes. That is indeed the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter. It’s a real steam train ride you can take through the Scottish highlands and it is supposed to be breathtaking.

We haven’t totally settled on the plan to go to the Highlands to take this train, but it’s pretty high on the list of things to do. This itinerary would also give us an opportunity to hike Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK. That hike would be totally reasonable and not exhausting or terrifying at all.


Whether we stick to the Scottish Highland plans or head off to Wales or Ireland, I don’t think it really matters. Whatever we decide to do will be awesome. But, if you have any suggestions of places to go in the UK, send ’em my way!

Duck parades and cotton fields

This past week I had the great opportunity to travel for work. Now, I know that for some, traveling for work is all about the hassle of airport security and small bottles of shampoo but I don’t travel for work that often and those shampoo bottles are still a novelty I stuff in my bag anxiously awaiting for the hotel staff to replenish the counter with new ones (I swear, they appear like magic!).

This wasn’t my first work trip but it was certainly an exciting one. I was off to Memphis, Tennessee for a whorl-wind tour of press conferences at the Peabody Hotel and farm tours in Arkansas (I work in agriculture, yo. Have I told you that before?).

For me and my vanity, the most challenging part of the trip was figuring out how to pack. I was only gone for 2 nights and 3 days and I was traveling with a group of people. Therefore, I didn’t really want to have to check any luggage. I envisioned myself waltzing into the airport with my carry-on and whizzing by all those schmucks waiting to get their bags checked.

But as many seasoned travelers know, there are rules about traveling with liquids, aerosols and gels. What would I do about my HAIR PRODUCTS. I was going to MEMPHIS with curly hair in the middle of JULY! I need several products to calm my frizz on a regular day, how would I manage with soaring temperatures and 80% humidity!

I scoured the pharmacy shelves the night before I departed desperate for a hair solution that would meet the airports 100ml bottle restrictions. I ended up settling with some sort of scrunching gel product for curly hair. For a girl who swears by the volume-enhancing and touchable outcome of mousse, this was most definitely a second-rate product.

But, when no one else in my group checked luggage, I was relieved at my prudent hair taming choices.

We arrived in the birthplace of Rock n Roll with little fanfare. The farm tours took us across the Mississippi River into Arkansas and it was a real eye-opener to drive through some of the small towns there. Small town-Arkansas seems to really be struggling with lots of failing infrastructure and boarded up homes. It made me ever more grateful for how good small-town Ontario has it.

In seeming direct contrast to the trials of rural towns in Arkansas was the green fields of cotton, soybeans and sorghum and the blinding lights of Memphis.

The conference was held at the Peabody Hotel and although we stayed in a very nice hotel down the street, the Peabody was truly spectacular. The hotel’s main attraction is the ducks that swim in the fountain in their lobby. Every day the ducks parade in on a red carpet after taking the elevator down from their home on the roof at 11am (I wish I could sleep in till 11). I was lucky enough to watch them parade out at 5pm as they walked the red carpet home for the evening.

Apparently the whole duck thing started back in the 1930s when 2 men were out hunting. Back then it was legal to use live decoy ducks and after a bit of Tennessee whiskey they decided that it would be more fun to place their live decoys in the Peabody fountain instead of bringing them home to the farm. The prank didn’t have the outcome they expected when the ducks pliantly stayed put and hotel guests oohed and awwed.

I joined past generations and did my own oohing and awwing as the Duck Master led them home. Yes. The Duck Master. That is a job that exists in real life.

I was also lucky enough to spend some time on Beale Street in the evening and enjoy a pint while listening to a live blues band. To be honest, Beale Street wasn’t quite what I expected. It had more of a college party vibe and less of the sophisticated blues vibe that I was expecting. Either way, it was pretty weird for me to be legally drinking a pint in the middle of the street. I kept looking over my shoulder expecting the cops to come shut the street party down.

Fortunately, I left the city with no police record and our flights home were equally uneventful.

I’m excited about more travel opportunities for work. I would really like to see more of North America. There are so many places in both Canada and the US that I would love to visit!

Music meltdown

We’ve been driving a lot this summer. Matt’s family and my family live about 2.5 hours away and between pre-wedding events for my brother’s upcoming nuptials and Matt’s family get togethers, we’re on the road home many weekends.

It’s not a great drive; it’s not a bad drive, but it is a lot of hours in the car. With a lot of hours in the car comes a lot of hours of music. Although Matt and I don’t have the exact same taste in music we do enjoy each others favourites and there are rarely arguments over what to listen to. We have a pretty solid system where the passenger is in charge of the ipod but the driver has veto  on song choice.


But, it’s not all hunky-dory (why does no one use this word anymore, it’s amazing!). See, Matt is particularly particular about what type of music he feels like right this second.

For me, I choose my music based on my mood. If I’m pumped up and excited about the weekend, then my ipod play list features the likes of Gaga, the Ting Tings and the Black Eyed Peas. If I’m more mellow and relaxed, I’ll move to the Avett Brothers, Counting Crows or Dave Matthews. If I’m in between moods or undecided about my mood, I’ll go for something with a bit of an out of the box sound like Modest Mouse.

All of these choices seem pretty basic and self-explanatory to me. If you break it down, I pretty much find songs that fit the beat of my mood.

But, Matt is infinitely more complex in his music choices. What mood he’s in is important, but it is certainly not the only ingredient when he mixes his cocktail of “music I’ll listen to right this second“.

Nope, he has to make it all complicated and therefore he has to make my life complicated because inevitably I’ll pick the wrong music and be forced to find an acceptable alternative.

From what I can gather, Matt’s music falls into many categories and in order to get the right music you must have taken courses in advanced library sciences in order to figure out the appropriate cross-references that will lead to the perfect song or artist right this second.

First of all, the music must suit the season. There are summer songs and winter songs. Now, you’d think this is simply his aversion to listening to Katy Perry’s California Gurls* in November or his hatred of Here Comes Santa Claus in July. But no, the seasonal categories are deep and scientifically cataloged. Unfortunately, I can’t even find my way through the Dewy Decimal system let alone Matt’s catalog of seasonally appropriate music. He has entire albums and favourite songs that he only listens to for 4 months of the year.

So far, I’ve discovered that Weezer is most certainly summer appropriate. After that, I’m lost.

But, it doesn’t end there. Once you’ve nailed down the summer/winter schism then you have to cross-reference with the weather. Is it raining? Is it sunny? Is it humid? Are we about to get a thunderstorm? Are we in the middle of a thunderstorm? Yes, I bet the music for pre-thunderstorm weather is different from the music for mid-thunderstorm weather.

Finally, you have the time of day to fit into the shakedown. Is it early? Too early for raucous rock music? Or is it just the right time for some loud wake-me-up jams? Is it mid-afternoon? Dusk? Midnight? Do you want the music that will keep you awake while driving or are you awake enough but it’s just that right amount of dark outside that it’s time for some relaxing Simon & Garfunkle?

Gah! How’s a girl to navigate such a minefield of no that’s not quite right? Does anyone else pick their music like this? I know one of Matt’s brothers is the same way but the other brother picks his music more like I do – based only on what he feels like listening to.

How do you pick what to listen to? Is it half as complicated as this?

*Why do people do this! Why do they spell things incorrectly on purpose. It’s not cute. It’s not funny. It’s certainly not witty. In fact, it makes you look like a schmuck. I think Katy and the owner of the Krazy Karpets down the street from me need to review their word lists more carefully.

Putting an end to The Wallow

These past few weeks have been a little tough for me. Despite the amazing-ness of this sunshiny weather, I’ve been feeling less than awesome about the upcoming summer.

This warm, humid, sunshiny weather reminds me of the years I spent working at a summer camp. Summers past found me with a standard uniform of cargo shorts and tank tops. I would wake to a ringing bell and not worry about brushing my hair before stumbling into the sun to find 100 smiling children and a day full of crafts, running, swimming and face paint ahead of me.

I love my job, but it’s primarily an office job (although I do get to go tour farms every once in a while. Farm days are my favourite days). It’s hard not to fall into a bit of a seasonal slump when you trudge into a climate controlled, weather-neutral workspace which features tauntingly large but unopening windows giving you a perfect visual to the outdoors but no way to actually enjoy them.

I’ve been longing for the summer where I used to wear my watch tan line with pride; the summer where I used to muscle children out of the 2 feet of clay they got stuck in; the summer where I would invent games to entertain children for hours with simple props like Popsicle sticks and milk crates (I worked at a POOR camp); the summer where I would marvel at my ‘tan’ only to see it wash off in the hose and realize that it was just a nice layer of dirt.

I haven’t worked at camp in years, but I still miss it. I miss being outside and wearing french braids.

But, the time for wallowing has come to an end. I need to get out of this slump, pull up my big girl panties and start enjoying this summer.

To help me with this plan to end The Wallow, I have created a(n incomplete) list of fun things I will do this summer:

  • Become a girl who wears nail polish – I have nice nails, I should colour them.
  • Fall in love with all of my old jewelry again and find ways to wear it – I have a lot of chunky, ethnic-looking jewelry from when I was a pseudo-hippie in University. It was all delegated to weekend wear when I got a big-girl job and then it went from weekend wear to being forgotten. I think it’s about time I reclaim those hippie days and match that rockin’ bejeweled faux-silver cuff with some dress capris and a stylish, yet office appropriate top. And yes, I will be sporting that obnoxiously chunky ring in the board meeting. Deal with it.
  • Run a 5 km race.
  • Grow a vegetable – I only have a small balcony but, by golly, I will grow some cherry tomatoes!
  • Train and complete a mini-triathlon.
  • Get outside more – I want to explore the trails around my city and I want to find some activities that let me re-live my glory camp days. Anyone up for some Capture the Flag? (seriously, who wants to play?)
  • Find a friend with a pool – If you follow me on twitter, you will already be aware that I am currently accepting applications for this position.
  • Spend more time drinking on patios at local pubs with friends and host auditions for “Claire’s favourite summer beer.”
  • Party with my family at my brother’s wedding and all the events leading up to it.
  • Plan an awesome vacation with Matt for the end of the summer before he starts school again – we’re currently considering Washington, DC but Boston is also an option. Please advise.
  • Spend at least one weekend at a cottage – do you have a cottage? Can I come visit?
  • Wear summer dresses as much as possible.
  • Continue to expand my music library – I am slowly breaking out of my pop-radio-only slump and I’d like to keep on that.
  • Expand my sandal and summer shoe options.
  • Get dirty – whether it’s from gardening, hiking or an awesome game of Capture the Flag (seriously, please let me know if you want to play), summer isn’t summer without getting a little messy.

That’s all of I’ve got for now, but I’m sure there will be more to add to it. This should be enough to hold the wallow at bay for at least a little while.

What are your summer plans?

Montreal-Ottawa Adventures

Although I’ve been back for nearly a week, I just took the photos off my camera from my vacation to Montreal and Ottawa. Join me on a photo tour of my vacation. I promise it’s mostly worthwhile to keep going if only for one specific photo of this amazing sub-culture of absolute craziness that I learned about in Montreal.

After a long-ass drive filled with great new music and some amazing story-telling podcasts brought to you by the Vinyl Cafe (seriously, if you are unaware of who Stewart McLean is, check him out. He’s well-known in Canada as one of the best story tellers).

Upon arrival in Montreal (7.5 hours later!) there was pub-hopping to do and hockey games to watch. The following day, M and I hit up the Biodome which is this awesome mix of zoo and museum.

M and I at the Biodome. Check out the awesome forest behind us.

They had these cute, weird little birds there running around like they owned the place. There were signs up everywhere that warned you not to touch them but they were so damn friendly I was wishing that I had brought a bigger purse in which to shove them in and take them home as pets.

Then there were these beautiful creatures. Although they were totally beautiful, I was less inclined to take them home with me because they would probably clash with my more subdued home decor. Although, those design shows always say you need a splash of colour in a room. Hmmm….

The trip also involved an unsavory night on the town of which I will not post photos for all the world to see cause I like my friends and do not wish to draw unwanted attention from the authorities.* However, I will say that the evening did begin with a rockin’ birthday dinner for M at a classy place that provides you with sombreros on your birthday!

The other highlight of the Montreal portion of my trip was Tam Tams. Apparently, every Sunday in the summer in Montreal people gather at Mont Royal for a huge party. The highlight of the party is all the drums. People bring drums and form impromptu drum circles complete with dancing, drinking, smoking and that guy in the tye dye shirt.

It’s truly a remarkable experience. There were probably over 2000 people there of all walks of life. You had the traditional hippie types with their dread locks and joints but you also had the parents with their little kiddies in strollers enjoying the music, the tourists and the seniors and everyone in between.

Although the music was great, the best part was the people we found a little ways up the hill. While walking through the crowds we stumbled across something truly remarkable. We stumbled across a battle:

Apparently, there is a group of people (there were well over 100 there at the time) that get together to battle. After watching for a while, I determined a few things:

  • There seems to be no dress code for such situations. Some people, as you see the two boys above, were dressed in everyday clothes. Others were dressed in full body armour. The armour ranged from full medieval traditional garb to outfits more befitting of hobbits in the Lord of the Rings. One guy (sorry I couldn’t get a photo) was clearly inspired by Russel Crow in Gladiator and had a Roman-esque outfit complete with big fur pelts.
  • There is no age limit. Although the boys above are young, there were men and a few women there that were well into adult-hood enjoying it all the same.
  • They were definitely organized. From what I could tell they were playing some form of capture the flag. There was definitely a King (he had a crown more like Cesar’s golden leaves than a European crown). There were even people around the battle who were in ‘training.’ They were being trained by more experienced battlers on proper battle etiquette and weapon use. In the one training match, the King came to observe and was clearly impressed because he greeted the trainee with some secret handshake. The trainee was clearly overjoyed but trying to keep his cool in front of the King.

My friend C informed us all that this strange hobby was called LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) and was sort of the real-life off-shoot of those fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons (I’m sure if C was wrong on this someone will correct me). No matter what it was it was such a mixture of super weird and super awesome that I was mesmerized. We stayed and watched the battle for over an hour. We all picked out of favourites and had mini bets going on. I think we had just as much fun watching as they did playing.

Post Montreal, I headed to Ottawa to visit my friend K and her puppy. The puppy is at that awesome ‘teenager’ stage where their legs are a little too long for their body and they are super cute and super awkward all at the same time (once again, sorry no photo, my batteries are almost dead at this point).

I did however get a photo of K and I at parliament hill.

Not the greatest photo, but in true Ottawa fashion, the beautiful warm, sunshiny weather had turned into a windy, snowy day of gloom so we were both cold and tired and wind-swept by the time we made it to the Hill.

Ultimately it was an awesome vacation with just the right ratio of party-chill out and relax-touristy stuff. It’s not often you achieve the perfect ratio, most vacations tend to fall into one of the three categories, or 2 at the best. But this one was pretty damn near perfect.

What was the last vacation you took? Was it everything you wanted it to be?

*If you happen to be the authorities, I assure you that nothing illegal happened on our night(s) out. But, please don’t tell my friends, I don’t want to lose my street cred.

Home sweet home

Despite my past post about the affliction known as backfromvacationitis, when the vacation doesn’t involve weather-related extremes, coming home is often one of my favourite parts of the vacation.

My time visiting friends this past week in Montreal and Ottawa was awesome. I saw lots of fun sights, experienced two great cities and drank way too much wine and beer with lovely friends that I haven’t seen in far too long.

But, I’m happy to be home. I’m so happy to be sleeping in my own bed again, making my own coffee in my own coffee pot and waking up to my own alarm on my own familiar schedule. In case you were unaware, I like routine. I like the familiarity and comfort of a routine and there is nothing that makes you appreciate a routine more than breaking it for a little while.

I know lots of people that find routines boring and lame. Not me, I’m all over a routine like it’s nobody’s business.

Although, I haven’t really been back to work yet. I got to spend my first day back from vacation on a farm tour and digging around in the dirt and learning about planting onions just doesn’t really feel like work to me. So, maybe after spending my Friday sorting through an overflowing inbox I’ll feel differently about the joys of being home. But right now, I’m reveling in my own comfy bed.

I’ll put together a fun post this weekend with photos from my travels. Stay tuned because I have some hilarious photos of some interesting behaviours we witnessed in some parks in Montreal.

Hi There!

I'm Claire. I like to write about ridiculous things.

I love chocolate but don't think cheese and cake belong together.

I often wish it was socially acceptable to wear glitter before 10pm.

If you want to chat, email me at clairesuzanne1 at gmail dot com.


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