Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Two moms, two boys, two scooters, three weeks – Europe 2018
June 24, 2018

If I could have hung a sign on my life for the month of May, it would have read “gone exploring”.

I’m not a fan on the word vacation, given the implied meaning that I have things in my life from which I need to vacate. I don’t. Not to say there aren’t challenges, there are. But in my estimation at least, I was overdue for an exploration.

So when my youngest and his friend suggested it might be fun to go backpacking in Europe, I got straight to work. As our kids get older, our chance to spend time and have fun with them diminishes. My days of racing down double-black diamond ski runs are long over. And I’m not very good on a skateboard. While I appreciate rap, hip hop and the strange humour of youtube, my appetite for it is waining. So I felt this was an opportunity I needed to make happen. Luckily for me, my son’s best friend’s mom happens to be my best friend so, with happy travel companions on board, we set off on our journey.

It’s a trip I’ve done before, with my high school class, as a young university grad, as a suddenly single thirty something and again as fearlessly new forty year old. I even had plans to move to London at one time. But then life changed, love happened, babies happened and life took shape. And I’m so glad it took the shape that it has. But for May of this year, it took shape in Barcelona, Arles, Florence, Paris, Lille and London.

So, couple things right off the bat. Europe is expensive (and I am not wealthy). Yes, but it’s less out of reach than it once was. Flights are cheaper than they have ever been. I spent less flying to London than I have flying back east to see my family. Hotels are expensive. Yes. But Air BnB has opened up a whole new supply of accommodation. They are priced competitively, and offer a variety and diversity you simply cannot get in a standard double occupancy room. We stayed in an abbey, a stone house, a five-storey walk up,  and on a wooden boat in an historic harbour. And it was awesome. Transportation is expensive. Sort of. European flights are cheaper than regional flights within Canada and non EU nationals qualify for reduced price train passes if you order them from Canada. Local transit is on par (well except for Salmon Arm which is the best deal going). Restaurants are expensive. Yes. But grocery shopping is not. It’s competitive to prices here. And, to my mind at least, I’d have to eat anyway. We weren’t there to tick off boxes of expensive attractions to visit. We did normal things such as visiting markets, hanging out in squares, going for long walks, and checking out different neighbourhoods. For our boys, the added bonus was that they brought their scooters so we scoped out our fair share of skateparks on the way. Which they loved. Because, they too were awesome. Even from a mom’s point of view.

And all that walking and scootering, (our app told us we walked over 300 kms in 23 days) taught me a few things. We are so spoiled for space. Canada is the world’s second largest country and has one of the lowest population densities on the globe. Scarcity teaches us to be better at using space. At least in my view. And at least in Europe.

Our apartments were modest and practical and mostly quite small. But they were well appointed, well designed and smart from energy efficient appliances, on demand hot water showers to drying racks and electrical plugs that you turn on and off rather than draw ghost power. The transportation was smart too. Electric cars and trams, high occupancy lanes in the centre of town to de-incentivize the one per vehicle addiction we are so fond of here in North America. And bikes, everywhere, shareable and with their own lanes to boot. London even has a high speed cycle way. It’s fun to watch from the top of a double decker bus. Like a commuter version of the Tour de France. Fascinating. And it works. For everyone.

And now the fun part, at least for me, was the design of public space. Every neighbourhood, every alley, every train station, every square, every garden featured an obvious attention to community engagement. We know we behave better when we feel connected to our public spaces. Europe has had its share of challenges. On previous trips, I remember armed guards with machine guns at various posts. I saw less of that this time. I am persuaded that all of Europe has taken an intensive class in crime prevention through environmental design (CPED – a field of study widely recognized for reducing crime – also look up broken window theory if you want to learn more about it). There was a presence of police and security no doubt, and CCTV cameras everywhere but the emphasis was less on militaristic security measures and more on safety and inclusion.

A couple of examples that come to mind include a swing at a tube station in London. What better way to wait for your ride home. Indoor playgrounds at the train station to keep the kids busy and happy before the trip. Pianos, just to play. A stationery bike to charge your phone so as to keep fit and in touch. Concrete ping pong tables in parks, skate park ramps in alleys between buildings, story machines that print very short stories for you to enjoy if you need a break. Chairs – everywhere moveable chairs – to sit and better enjoy your day at the park. Music in the Metro. Even a fellow willing to type (yes, on a typewriter) a poem for whatever you could pay. Coffee shops hidden under bridges. Public art, just to play on and around. Plaques to remind you of those who came before you and statues and fountains and, even a giant indoor slide in the courtyard of an art gallery. Space is at a premium in European cities and they really do make the most of it. But mostly, it was about people, lots of helpful people, residents, transit workers, security guards, merchants, who are there to help, not to hurt or hinder. Private space is limited and at a premium, obviously. But public space makes up for it in its accessibility, its welcome and its possibilities.

So all that to say, I’m home now. And I’ve kept up the walking. I take to the Park Hill trails in Canoe on a daily basis now and I continue to explore. I explore questions like where shall we put the swing, where shall we put the stationery bike, what about the story machine. And the piano. We need a piano. We need to explore how to ensure, with an over abundance of space, we still recognize the need to continue to make them, at least the public bits, as accessible and as welcoming as possible. We are all explorers, but sometimes we get stuck. So find a trail, or a bike, or a piano, and get started again. Put that sign on your life that reads “keep exploring”. That’s where I’ll find you.

Happy travels.

Barcelona

Arles

Italy

Paris

Lille

London

Summertime and the living is eas(ier)
August 4, 2016

This column first appeared in the August 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

As I write this, I have vacation on my mind. 
 
Of course, when you live in a place that is someone else’s vacation spot, there can be challenges. Other people’s vacation keep many of us locals a fair bit more busy. And that’s a good thing. But it’s summer. And we all deserve to enjoy it. 
 
We really are so fortunate. I have enjoyed visits to the gallery for the Trail Mix Exhibit (don’t miss it) and WOW (don’t miss that either) and I marvel at the work being done by Roots and Blues as they prepare for festival 24. Amazing team. Please go. 
 
I’ve enjoyed evenings at the Hive and my kids have had a great time on the lake. I’m more of a beach dweller, myself. I live for the late night campfires in my backyard.
 
But I’m trading it all in come Monday for three weeks in North Bay on Lake Nipissing, the town in which I grew up. Crazy right? Who would leave the Shuswap mid summer? Me, that’s who. And I’m beyond excited. 
 
The thing about summer is that it’s about nostalgia. And I’m headed that way. North Bay is much like Salmon Arm, a tourist town on a beautiful lake. It’s no wonder I ended up here. Like Canoe, I lived in an older neighbourhood very close to the lake. We would wander over to the beach at all hours for a quick swim as my kids do now at the dock. We were about 10 minutes from town as we are here. As kids, we would ride and skateboard around the neighbourhood till dark. When the porch lights turned on, it was time to come home. Same goes at our house now. 
 
But my homing beacon is calling me back big time. Some years ago, facing some difficulty in my business and helping my best friend move to the East Coast despite the prospect of missing her and her family terribly, I made a decision. I went to my high school reunion in North Bay. I didn’t have the money or the time but I knew I needed to go. So I did. And I reconnected with people who have known me since I was seven years old.
 
It was a watershed moment. In that three day weekend I remembered that I am who I have always been. A happy kid from a small town full of ideas and optimism. And it was a reminder that I sorely needed. I have been back since and I’ll go anytime I’m invited. There’s something about spending time with people who knew you before you were a grown up with expectations and responsibilities that does a soul good. I can honestly tell you that since that reunion, things have worked out for me both in terms of my business and my connection to this community. I’m proud to be a city councillor and small business owner. I’ve now lived in Salmon Arm longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. It’s my new home. And I Iove it. But nostalgia is a powerful force. 
 
This is the first time that my husband, my boys and my best friend will see where I grew up. I can’t wait to show them. I know they’ll say it reminds them of Salmon Arm.  We’ll see my parents, my brother, his wife and their kids, some cousins and some wonderful friends. I can’t wait. We’ll visit our neighbourhood, my old school, my hang outs and we’ll take quick dips in the lake at all hours. 
 
If you ever have to leave a place you love for a new place, please find a way to go back. It’ll help. Nostalgia is the best part of summer. I’ll miss Salmon Arm if only briefly but I’ll appreciate it more for going back to the place that made me fall in love with this town in the first place. 
 
Be safe. Be happy. Enjoy each other. That’s what summer is for. See you in September.

Lots on our plates
September 6, 2013

This column first appeared in the September All Month Edition of the Salmon Arm Friday Am

This summer, I visited five provinces: PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. In addition to taking in some great scenery and wonderful hospitality, I also took a curious interest in what the messages on provincial and territorial license plates really say about each place.

 Some inviting, others promising, some a bit perplexing, they are equally iconic messages sent between visitors and residents of cities and towns, highways and byways all across this country, every day of every year. Seen more often than passports or postcards, website or advertisements, they are a very effective promotional “vehicle” if you’ll pardon the pun.

In British Columbia – Beautiful British Columbia – seems a bit vain compared to the others, but it’s nothing short of the truth.

To understand Alberta’s plate – Wild Rose Country – I had to ask an Albertan who told me it’s that Alberta is both wild and beautiful (as well as very protective of what it  has to offer). It might even think it’s its own country but I wouldn’t go that far.

Saskatchewan is Land of Living Skies and anyone who’s driven through on a stormy summer’s eve would have to agree.

Manitoba – probably my favourite – is Friendly Manitoba. It’s a statement but also a service promise of sorts. I’ve never met someone from Manitoba I didn’t like.

Ontario has changed its tune over the years. It used to be bossy (Keep it Beautiful) but now it’s more inviting – Yours to Discover – and Ontario really does have a great deal to offer outside the big blob that has become Toronto.

Quebec is probably the most complex of messages – Je me souviens – which, translated means “I remember” but it can also be interpreted as “I will never forget” which are two entirely different things. Still, being mindful of who you are, how you got there and what you went through to arrive is always worth keeping in mind.

New Brunswick perplexes me a bit. Its plates, which are bilingual read – Be…in this place and “Etre…ici on le peut” – implying that you can be whatever you want in NB, just fill in the … – except you could fill in the blanks with some pretty unflattering things if you were so inclined. Still, New Brunswick is chalk full of opportunity and extremely scenic.

Nova Scotia is the most poetic in my view – Canada’s Ocean Playground – which speaks to its maritime heritage and its landscape.

PEI’s is Canada’s Green Province – both in colour and in attitude – going as far as offering compost bins in hotel room and fast food joints. It’s largely unspoiled by big boxy developments. The farms seem to out number the buildings by my count.

I’m always intrigued by the rare sightings of license plates from the three territories. Northwest Territories “Explore Canada’s Arctic”, Yukon “The Klondike” and Nunavut or “ᓇᕗᑦ ” in Inuktitut.

Newfoundland and Labrador has no saying, per say, on its plates but it does feature its tourism logo prominently featured in its storied tourism television ads.

Every province and territory has its charm and Canada really is such a stunning and diverse country. I wish it were cheaper to travel cross country so every Canadian could see what’s outside their own province. As it is, life sometimes leaves us with too much on our own plates to be able to make those trips. And while I’m very grateful for my time away, I’m ever so happy to be home in Beautiful British Columbia.