Tuesday, September 2, 2014

GUEST POST - How to Make the Most out of Your Pune to Mahabaleshwar Road Trip

The Western Ghats are famous for many beautiful hill stations, forests and valleys. Mahabaleshwar is one such picturesque location situated in the state of Maharashtra. Before the Indian independence, the British governing the Bombay province used to retire to this hill station to beat the scorching Indian summer. Pune is a major city which is situated close by Mahabaleshwar. So after the British, Mahabaleshwar is a favourite getaway for the residents of Pune to escape the bustling city life.

Mahabaleshwar is located 120Kms away from Pune and one can reach Mahabaleshwar by the National Highway – 4. The route passes through the towns of Wai and Panchgani. The drive would take a little over 2hrs and most tourists prefer to hire a Pune to Mahabaleshwar taxi. If you still prefer refreshments during the journey, there are many dhabas and roadside eateries. It is best to start early to avoid the heavy vehicles near Parsani Ghat at Panchgani.

Mahabaleshwar is surrounded by hills and valleys and enjoys a pleasant climate throughout the year. Thanks to these hills and mountains, there are numerous view-points which offer breathtaking views. The mist and haze surrounding these view-points make you forget the hullabaloo of the city.

One such location is the Arthur’s Seat. This view point offers a panoramic view of the Western Ghats. Situated on the eastern side of Mahabaleshwar are Kate’s Point, Wilson Point and Elephant’s Point. Wilson point is the highest peak in Mahabaleshwar and is famous for the view of the hills during sunrise and sunset. One can see the Balakwadi dam from Kate’s Point. The Elephant’s Point presents a spectacular view of various rock formations. One such formation resembles the head of an elephant and hence the name.

Apart from its natural beauty, Mahabaleshwar is also famous for the Shiva Temple (also known as Old Mahabaleshwar Temple) located in Old Mahabaleshwar. This is the oldest temple in Mahabaleshwar and there is an interesting anecdote associated with this temple. It is said that a demon named “Mahabali” was vanquished by Lord Shiva and hence the town was named as Mahabaleshwar.

Krishnabai Temple is another must-visit. It is situated near the Old Mahabaleshwar Temple and you would have to walk a while through a narrow lane. The temple is so old that you have greenery even on the walls of the temple!

Situated at the centre of the town is the Town Bazaar. One can find many small shops selling souvenirs and handicrafts like leather items and tribal artefacts. The famous Kolhapuri chappals are available in this market and shops selling these chappals are highly recommended for women. Squashes, marmalade and jams are locally made in Mahabaleshwar and are put on display in the Town Bazaar.

Now about an exotic fruit which Mahabaleshwar is famous for – Strawberries! Mahabaleshwar is also known as The Land of Strawberries. The town is strewn with shops selling various berries and you have to taste the fresh strawberries of Mahabaleshwar. One can find many restaurants serving desserts with a strong strawberry base. So, make it a point that you pack your bags with enough natural goodies before you return from Mahabaleshwar.

Travel Tips:-

1) Traffic on NH 4 can be heavy during weekends. The Old Mahabaleshwar temple is crowded on Mondays.

2) Avoid hiring guides at Mahabaleshwar as you can educate yourself with the help of placards and plaques at important monuments.

3) Venna Lake is famous for boating is situated in the heart of Mahabaleshwar.

4) Do visit the Lodwick Point from where you can see the famous Pratapgadh Fort. If time permits, do visit the fort. It is situated 20Kms from Mahabaleshwar.

5) Mapro Garden serves delectable dishes and don’t miss out on trying ice-cream with fresh strawberries at this restaurant.

6) Panchganis is another picturesque town en route to Mahabaleshwar.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Songs that Take me Back

Many things bring back memories but for me, the one thing that can conjure up any memory, good or bad, is music. Every good relationship I’ve been in has a theme song. Some of those theme songs came about from a specific moment in the relationship or is just a song that reminds me of that person. Every bad breakup also has a song (unfortunately, one particular song, which happens to be one of the favorite songs of all time, reminds of a person I’d rather forget!) and hearing that song brings me back to some not-so-great times or, occasionally reminds me a rare good moment I had with that person. There are songs that remind me of my childhood friends, people who passed away, people who moved away, moments I never want to forget and moments I wish never happened but can laugh at now. There are also those songs that remind me of memorable things that have happened on the road or while traveling abroad and it is those songs that set the backdrop for some interesting, sometimes funny and always unforgettable moments where a song united people from different backgrounds and cultures in a moment of togetherness even when language wasn’t a common factor.

I can trace the correlation of music and travel back to my grade school years when my class would pile into an old school bus and travel to various places around Cape Breton for field trips. All the way to our destination, we sang songs at the top of our lungs. Even the bus driver would join in. Road trips with my parents were much the same thing until I hit my teenage years and music took on a different form. It was no longer “cool” to sing along to campfire-like songs in the car; My Walkman (yes, Walkman – it was the 90’s) became my sanctuary on those long trips and I often retreated into my own little world as I watched the world go by through the car window. Back than, it was MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, C+C Music Factory and Technotronic that played on that early 90’s version of the modern Ipod. My parents hated this because they saw it as me removing myself from their circle and being anti-social. I saw it as me discovering my own taste in music and setting my own background soundtrack to the memories that were being made.

As I got older, I did start leaving the portable music players at home and chose instead to listen to the radio. By that time, I had developed a taste in music that was similar to that of my mother’s. Dwight Yoakam, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, The Garrison Brothers, The BeeGees, Sheryl Crow and pretty much anything that had real instruments and people who could actually sing and write good lyrics. I remember one particular week many moons ago, my mother had developed an obsession with the song “All you Ever do is Bring me Down” by The Mavericks and she played it over and over again at top volume while we drove around town, bonding over our Tim Horton’s tea. “Streets of Bakersfield” by Dwight Yoakam was another song that always brings back memories of my mother behind the wheel, music cranked and singing at the top of her lungs. Over-synthesized pop music, rap and needless screaming were never really pleasing to her sensitive ears nor to mine! When I acquired my first car, the first thing I did was make a bunch mix tapes and CD’s. At first, they were thrown together messes filled with timeless favorites and one-hit-wonders that I would get sick of after a week. Over time, I perfected the art of creating what I call The Ultimate Road Tripping Playlist…and it hasn’t changed much since I first created it except now it is on my Ipod instead of a cassette tape or CD. Hotel California, Tequila Sunrise, pretty much anything by Bon Jovi, The Cult and Pearl Jam. Of course, Johnny Cash’s epic road tripping anthem, “I’ve Been Everywhere” and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” are mainstays on that list.

When it comes to memories made on the road, there are many and each and every one of them can be paired with a song that brings me back to the very day when the event occurred. I remember the day I got my first car quite well. My parents surprised me with a white 1989 Honda Accord a couple of weeks before graduation. Mom went out that morning to run errands and when she came home, she yelled into the house for me to help her carry groceries in. There was nothing unusual about this as I always helped with the groceries but when I went outside, there she was standing next to that beautiful car, holding the keys out to me. “Wanna take it for a spin?” she asked with a huge grin on her face. I must have looked dumfounded or confused because she added “it’s yours by the way. Here’s the keys.” That was the defining moment in my future desire to always be out on the open road. I grabbed some tapes from my bedroom and jumped in the car to embark on my first solo mission behind the wheel…in my very own car. I still remember the song that was playing when I pulled out of the driveway; Ozzy Osbourne’s “Perry Mason”. Mom warned me not to go into the city because I was not used to the roads. I guess she assumed I would stay around town and close to home but to me “don’t go to the city” meant I could go anywhere except the city…so I drove to St. Peter’s, 2.5 hours away. Technically I didn’t disobey her. A few months later, I furnished that car with a brand new, state-of-the-art sound system with amps, subwoofers and a CD player….top of the line in those days! That faithful little Honda was my sanctuary for 6 road-trip filled years. I figured I had put that poor car through enough when the odometer reached 425 000.

The summer before I moved away for college, I took one last trip around The Cabot Trail. I was on my way home after a wonderful weekend spent in my favorite haunts. I got to the Red Barn just outside of Baddeck and was about to turn onto the highway 105 to head home when I noticed the evening sky starting to turn a fiery red – an indication that there would be a spectacular sunset. I also remembered that the moon would be full that evening and these were my two criteria for a perfect night spent by the ocean. Being the restless soul that I was (and still am), I turned that car around and headed back in the direction of Inverness Beach. Actually, it was more like the car turned itself around…like it knew I was meant to be there at that moment in time. Although that was almost 15 years ago, I still remember the song that was playing on the radio when I found myself back on that lonely country road; “Strawberry Wine” by Deanna Carter. That entire weekend was an unforgettable one but that impromptu detour back to the coast made it simply magical. I parked the car near the sand dunes at the end of one of the side roads that lead to that long, sandy stretch of beach, got out, stretched out on a blanket in the sand, watched the last of the suns rays sink into the Atlantic Ocean and waited for the moon to rise into the sky above with the sounds of some young people singing and playing guitars a short distance away. Over the course of my life, I have had many such unplanned and unforgettable moments and I feel fortunate to have those memories and to be able to remember the songs that bring me back to those special moments frozen in time. Someday, I may forget those memories and I can only hope that the sound of a particular song will bring me back. I believe music has that much power. I’ve experienced that power many times.

When I moved to Newfoundland at the young age of nineteen, my car came with me and those road trips continued except they were with different people in a different landscape. I will never forget the emotions that were stirring in me the day I left Cape Breton, my family and friends behind me and boarded the Joseph and Clara Smallwood to cross the gulf to my new home. I was sad to leave but excited at the new prospects ahead of me. As I stood on the outside deck of that ferry and watched my hometown get smaller and smaller and the waters around me become dark and rough as we crossed into the open ocean, loneliness swept over me. I stood there alone for what seemed like a long time until I heard the faint sounds of music coming from the inside lounge. The house band was getting ready to start their set. While they tuned their guitars and tested their mics, I heard another sound coming from above me in the shadows of the upper deck. It sounded like a harmonica. It was a harmonica. I followed the sounds until I noticed a shadow on a bench in a far corner of the upper deck. That young man hammered out a tune on that harmonica like a pro. Turns out he was a pro and that night that started out as a routine sail across the Gulf of St. Lawrence ended up being one that I will never forget. I traveled on that ferry many times over the years and that house band never sounded better than they did that night when that lone harmonica player joined forces to create a powerhouse of sound. To this day, I consider that night the beginning of my independence…a proper send off into adulthood.
Not long after settling in my new surroundings, I developed a whole new circle of friends who also shared my love of the road and my love of music. One of the first trips I took outside the city of St. John’s was a camping trip to Northern Bay Sands. It was on that trip that I first heard the song that would become one of my favorites of all time, “Bad Timing” by Blue Rodeo. Every time I hear that song, I am taken back to that memorable little road trip. Unfortunately, the song came to remind me of a person I didn’t particularly want to be reminded of and I didn’t listen to it for a number of years. Strange how a song can evoke so many emotions and either pick us up or knock us down.

I eventually sold that old Honda and didn’t bother buying another car because I didn’t really need one in the city. Whenever I wanted to go on a road trip, I rented a car for the weekend but I also started acquiring a taste for traveling to places far away from home. My first real trip on my own outside of Canada was a trip to Las Vegas. At the time, the song “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga was immensely popular (coincidentally fitting considering I was in Vegas) and was heard coming from every casino, bar and car stereo on The Strip. Now every time I hear that song, I am reminded of that memorable week. During that same week, I took a side trip from Vegas to Death Valley. I rented a car and since I was on a huge Alice in Chains kick at the time, I had a playlist with just that bands songs on it and the song “Down in a Hole” is the one I remember playing as I drove through that desolate stretch of lonely desert.
In late 2010, I mistakenly got in contact with an old flame. I say mistakenly because I dumped him years before for many valid reasons I won’t get into. He sent me an email out-of-the-blue asking me out for a coffee. I saw no harm in having a coffee because, as far as I knew, he was in a steady relationship so there were no worries in him trying to get back with me. Well, I was wrong. Over that coffee, he told me it was over between them and he was interested in maybe trying with me again. I was reluctant and stuck with a firm “no” but still accepted the invitation to go on a trip to Mexico that Spring because we agreed to remain good friends and what’s wrong with going on a trip with a friend especially if they are offering to foot the bill. It was on that trip that I realized he had not changed one bit. In fact, he was worse than ever! The trip was a disaster and in the background of every moment spent arguing and babysitting him while he got plastered to the point of oblivion, the song “We no Speak Americano” by Yolanda be Cool was blaring through the speakers in the common area. I’m not sure why the staff had such an obsession with that particular song but even when I hear it today, I have flashbacks to that ill-fated week in Playa Del Carmen.

My trip to Cuba the following year was on much better terms. For one, I was traveling alone and not with a drunken idiot set on ruining a beautiful week in paradise. The only problem? I had the song “Mambo #5” by Lou Bega stuck in my head for weeks after I returned home! For some reason, this song was played over and over again at the resort disco. Perhaps the staff thought the patrons too drunk to notice that the playlist only consisted of that one song and it was upbeat enough to keep people drinking and dancing throughout the evening.
And than there was Costa Rica, my most recent big trip…and most memorable one. A week spent at a yoga retreat in paradise. I took this trip at a somewhat stressful time in my life. I was about to be unemployed and undecided about what to do with my life in terms of staying in Atlantic Canada or moving away again to find better-paying opportunities out west. The moment I walked into that yoga retreat, a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. A saltwater infinity pool overlooking the spectacular coastline, a bed facing glass doors overlooking the Pacific Ocean, delicious and homemade organic meals three times a day and the most soothing music I had ever heard setting the mood for the week. But there is another musical memory that stands out on that trip and I still smile to myself when I am taken back to that moment. I was too tired to walk back to the retreat after an evening spent wandering the little surf village of Montezuma so I hailed a cab. It was evident that my driver couldn’t speak a word of English as we both struggled to communicate. After some pointing and hand gestures and broken words in English and Spanish, he understood where I wanted to go. We started the short journey up that steep hill to Anamaya Yoga Retreat in silence until he turned on the radio. One might assume that a Spanish song would be playing on a local station in a Spanish-speaking country but it was an English song by a British artist that I was quite familiar with. My driver recognized it too and that man who could not speak a word of English only a few minutes earlier began to sing along to George Michael’s “Freedom 90” at the top of his lungs….in clear, unbroken English!

GUEST POST - The masterpiece that is the Bahamas

Describing The Bahamas in words alone is a little like attempting to draw a masterpiece without a canvas. As a luxury yacht traveler, you’ll first encounter the Bahamas from the most privileged position possible – leisurely drifting closer to an earthbound paradise the likes of which nothing can prepare your senses for. The sapphire-blue waters of the Caribbean eventually give way to the string of glistening diamonds – the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas.

Where to go first?
In terms of which of the islands to choose, it is impossible to go wrong because each one has its own unique charms. Of course, a trip to Grand Bahama is an absolute must for a taste of the high-life as it’s lived on this side of the Caribbean. From all-night casinos to the most opulent of hotels and a general feeling of exclusivity, Grand Bahama is a must. The same also applies to Moore’s Island which is blessed with limitless sporting opportunities for those with a competitive streak.

To the south, New Providence Island is home to Nassau – the capital of the Bahamas and the ideal place to take in a little history and culture. The way the Victorian buildings contrast with the distinctly tropical accents of the island is a wonder to behold – as too is the ever-present pirate undertone that accompanies almost everything you’ll see and do.

You’ll, of course, never be more than a stone’s throw away from dozens of the finest beaches on Earth, but for that one true picture postcard shot of pure paradise, you cannot pass up a trip to San Salvador. Busy as it may be, it’s also the single most stunningly beautiful place on the face of the Earth and never fails to reduce even the most hardened travelers to tears.

Location, location and location
Perhaps the most attractive thing of all about the Bahamas from a yacht traveler’s perspective is the region’s geographical location. Located within easy reach of both the rest of the Caribbean and the United States, it’s the ideal base for a much larger and more diverse sailing adventure taking in a multitude of the world’s most iconic sights and cities. Even if you decided to spend a month or more lapping up the treasures the Bahamas have to offer, you will never run out of new beaches to explore or villages to immerse yourself in.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can we at Least Get Along Long Enough to Share a Beach for Crying out Loud?

Being kicked off a section of beach that has been deemed private brought back a bittersweet memory of a moment I will never forget one evening on a beach in the Caribbean. The practice of reserving beach space for certain people and segregating others from accessing it is common practice in many regions of the world. The owners of ritzy resorts put up fences to keep out the people they consider “undesirable” – poor locals that they deem troublemakers and are best kept out of view of rich tourists that frequent their fancy, gated resorts. I didn’t stay in one of those fancy resorts; I opted for a small boutique hotel that allowed access to a beach that belonged to a fancier place. I was appalled by what I saw when I first went to that beach. On one side were the rich tourists; on the other side were the local people – the ones who lived in that town and had more right to that beach than anyone else. The next night, in protest, I went to the beach where the locals were. Unlike the rich tourists who would kick up a very loud stink if one of the locals crossed onto their turf, not one of those “undesirables” asked me leave. Instead, they smiled as I walked by them, they stopped me to ask where I was from, the children showed me the fish they had caught from a nearby dock, the parents invited me to sit with them around their fire. They never complained about anything while the people on the other side of the fence were frowning, cranky and complained about everything from the temperature of their drinks to the color of their beach chair. Most of them were too busy complaining and dressed too fancy in their high heels and designer gowns to even enjoy the beach and the spectacular sunset that evening. The lesson? Many of the people I have met in my life who had next to nothing were the happiest and were always open to meeting people from ALL walks of life while many of the people who had everything were miserable and complained about EVERYTHING and judged people for having less than them to the point of requesting such “undesirables” not be allowed on their beach. This makes me wonder with all the hate going on in this world – will we ever come to a resolution where we can all love and respect one another if we can’t even get along on a beach and share it equally?

As for the beach I was kicked off? I have been going to that beach since I was a child. There are two ways that I know of to get to that beach; one public access road where rowdy young people congregate and one at the end of the road past the Inverness Beach Resort area. I often travel alone and feel safer at the end near the resort and never had a problem until this day when a very rude and condescending woman, who I assume was the manager or owner of the resort, approached my car, saw that I was a young woman traveling alone and still told me to leave. I was very offended by this. Not because she was rude but because I had been a customer of her business a number of times in the past and she treated me like a common criminal instead of a potential paying customer. Also, the fact that she was a woman and should understand the unique problems that can arise when a woman travels alone, she should have understood my desire to park somewhere where I felt safe. I suspect she reserves the privilege of enjoying that section of beach to rich tourists…forgetting that it is the local people who keep coming back year after the year and we are the ones who, in the end, keep this business and other ones on the island in business. And that is something that does not go over well with me.
As for what I am going to do about this incident? Well for one, I know I won’t be able to go to that beach anymore unless the restrictions on that section of beach are lifted. The public area is too rowdy and crowded and I often do not feel safe there. This is unfortunate as Inverness Beach is one of my favorite long, sandy beaches in Cape Breton. I also know that there are laws pertaining to beach access in Nova Scotia and I’m pretty sure that no one is allowed to deny the public access to any beach in the province whether it falls on private property or not. Beaches are public domain and are for everyone’s enjoyment. I will be researching this information further and if it is discovered to be correct, I will be approaching the owner of that resort to discuss this. I understand that they may have had problems with rowdy guests in the past but it is wrong to paint everyone with that same brush. It was very obvious and plain to see that I was not there to cause any trouble. I simple wanted to lay on the beach and enjoy my day off in total relaxation away from screaming kids and rowdy teenagers. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Weekend in the Highlands

I like to get out of town on the weekends. What’s wrong with that? Yes, I could stay home and putter around the house and do the same thing I do all week but why would I do that when I can just jump in my car and drive off to one of my favorite places around Cape Breton. This summer, those weekends away mean even more to me than they ever did because I am working this summer and only have those 2 days each week to truly enjoy the things I love. A few weekends ago, I decided to book a cabin in Ingonish for the weekend. I usually camp when I travel to The Highlands but this time, I wanted to try something a little different. Besides, with work and so little time, it’s not really worth setting up a tent for just one night.

As soon as I made up my mind, I started searching online for available and affordable cabins in the Ingonish area. Most of them were booked as people wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weekend that was forecast. I finally did find one cottage available at Ingonish Ferry, about 10 minutes from the center of Ingonish Beach.

I left home early that morning and drove north, hoping to reach Ingonish by late morning. Something always has to go wrong on any road trip I embark on so it shouldn't have been a surprise when, just as I made the turn off at St. Ann's, my "check engine" light came on. To me, anything to do with my car that involves the engine is automatically a bad thing. I noticed a few days earlier that the car was driving sluggishly but didn't pay much attention to it. That light on my dashboard got my full attention and shattered my plans for the weekend. I turned around and headed to the nearest garage to see if there was a mechanic who could have a look. I didn't feel comfortable driving all the way home if it may damage the engine further. Of course, being a Saturday, there were no mechanics to be found. Before I started the drive home, I made a quick call to my backyard mechanic. His advice? "As long as the light isn't blinking and the car isn't overheating, your fine". So I decided to risk it and headed back toward Ingonish.

Knotty Pine Cottages are located just off the main highway near the bottom of Cape Smokey Mountain. I had driven by them many times before but never stayed there so I had no idea what to expect. My plan was to check in, empty the car of my belongings, get beach-ready and head to Black Brook for a late afternoon dip. The lady at the front checked me in and let me know that my key was in unlocked cottage #3 and off I went. The area was pretty and the cottages looked nice but the parking situation was a bit dodgy. Cars were just parked on the side of the narrow gravel road and there was only a small space to turn around. In their defense, there wasn’t a lot of space to work with so it wasn’t a big deal. The first thing I did was go inside, grab the key and test it….and it was a good thing I did because the key that was left in my cottage ended up being the key for cottage #5 next door. Had I not checked, I would have locked myself out and not realized it until I came back from the beach later that evening when there would be no one around to give me the proper key.

I first headed to one of my favorite beaches in the area – Black Brook. This beach has been hit or miss the past few years and on this day it was a miss. On good days, there is lots of sand, no rocks, no jelly fish and the waters are calm and warm. On this day, there were lots of rocks, the waves were choppy and there was hardly a strip of sand to even stretch my towel out on. I moved onto North Bay Beach, my next favorite one. While there was lots of sand at North Bay, there were way too many jellyfish to go swimming! I knew Ingonish Beach would be too crowded at that time of day so I moved on to The Point. Although this beach has all the criteria I like in a beach – uncrowded, sandy, no jellyfish – I often overlook it as a place to swim. On this day, the beach lived up to its reputation and I had a lovely dip in the cool Atlantic. The only problem? A huge flat fish stalked me the entire time. I know they are probably harmless but I tried to keep my distance anyway but he was always there lurking a few feet away.

That evening, I returned to my cabin to shower and get ready for dinner. I also took this time to get familiar with the little cabin I would be calling home for the day and a half. A kitchenette with a toaster, coffee maker and other appliances, a little deck overlooking the bay, a table (perfect for placing my laptop) looking out over the scenic area and a very comfortable bed with nice fluffy pillows. It was very small but cozy and I prefer cozy over spacious so it was perfect for me.

That evening, I grabbed some takeout and ate it at a picnic table near the beach. My way of thinking is “why eat inside a stuffy, noisy restaurant when I can eat to the sounds of the ocean and a view of a spectacular, fiery sunset over the bay. To me, the latter is the only way to go when it is an option! My meal was followed by a relaxing walk in the surf of Ingonish beach followed by a drive to The Point where I sat near the breakwater to watch the moon settle into the sky. After a long week at work stuck in front of a computer screen in an air-conditioned office, this is how I like to spend my free time…

I returned to my cabin close to midnight and settled into a late-night internet session and a glass of wine. I wandered outside to the deck for a while but the flies were so bad, I had to come back in. In my further explorations of my cabin I discovered a few things that could have been improved. For one, I realized I wouldn’t be having coffee first thing in the morning because the coffee maker had not been cleaned and some of the other appliances looked as if they had not been cleaned either. I also discovered something else rather annoying; the toilet had a habit of making a lot of weird and loud noises. I slept very well though and that is always a good thing.

Check-out went without any problems and off I went to spend another afternoon at the beaches before heading home to start another work week. Now that I know about Knotty Pines, I can look them up and book a reasonably-priced cute little cabin anytime I just want to get away from it all for a few days!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Canada Day Weekend - A Big Red Music Festival, A Tour of Charlottetown and a not so Sandy Beach

I wasn’t anticipating working this summer. I was laid off from my previous job in May and had no leads on a new job so I just assumed I would be taking the summer off. That was not to be. In early June, I got a call to work a temp position with the government. The hours are good, the pay is great and I worked there before and liked it so I couldn’t possibly turn down the opportunity. I had many plans for the summer before I got called to work and, as per usual, I planned to leave town for the Canada Day weekend. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that there was no long weekend this year because Canada Day fell on a Tuesday. I didn’t want to take a day off that early on and I didn’t want to lose a paid work day. I succumbed to the idea that I would be sticking around home for the national holiday…that is until an unexpected invitation to attend a concert in a nearby province was extended to me.
I knew my sister made plans to attend an outdoor concert in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island with a friend of hers. When that friend discovered at almost the last minute that she would not be able to go, the idea of me going in her place was tossed around. I first said “no” because I would have to take an unpaid day off work. I thought about it…and thought about it some more. The angel on my shoulder was saying “you can’t afford to take a day off” while the devil on the other shoulder was saying “live a little! You just endured one of the worse winters on record and summer is so short…go and enjoy it”. The devil won. I rarely turn down a road trip invitation and one of my favorite bands was playing and as an extra incentive, the weather forecast was calling for sunny skies and high temperatures all weekend. It was settled. I put my notice in at work, packed my bags and set out on a Canada Day weekend road trip to Charlottetown, which, befitting enough, also happens to be The Birthplace of Confederation.
Thankfully we left on Sunday so I could sleep on Saturday after working the late shift the previous night. By 7am, we were on the road, heading to catch the ferry in Pictou that would take us to PEI. The drive and the ferry ride went smoothly – perhaps because it wasn’t me driving…bad luck has a tendency to find me on the road. Breakdowns, wrong turns and the like seem to be normal occurrences anytime I am behind the wheel.
Even though PEI is the only place I know of in Canada that has a 90kph speed limit on the Trans Canada Highway, we still managed to arrive in Charlottetown with a few hours to spare before the concert started so we checked into our hotel. Actually, it was a dormitory at Holland College but the room was very nice with a full bathroom and kitchen and separate bedrooms and we didn’t have to share it with anyone else! And, surprisingly enough for how many people were staying there that weekend, it was very quiet.
Because we had some time to spare, my sister and I decided to go out to grab something to eat before making our way to the concert grounds, which conveniently enough were located right across the street from our accommodations. We asked the front desk clerk for some suggestions on where to eat but neglected to inform her that I was a vegetarian and my sister is very picky and has a preference for seafood, which I despise. Just the smell of fish turns my stomach! She recommended we try Victoria Row, a pedestrian walkway lined with restaurants. We went there first and, although it was lined with restaurants, the majority of them either specialized in seafood or were way too expensive for our budgets. Time was ticking so we settled on a Cora’s restaurant on the main street. I had never eaten at Cora’s before and I must say, I was quite pleased with what I ordered even if the service was a tad slow.
The concert grounds were quite large and the crowd was growing when we arrived just in time for the first band called North Lakes. Fortunately, we didn’t have to weave through the crowd or wait in line for drinks or bathroom breaks because we had VIP tickets that allowed us to skip the line and retreat to a quieter, more adult-friendly atmosphere away from the screaming, drunken kids and general rowdiness that tends to take place at outdoor concerts.
It was quite hot when we first arrived. We retreated to the shelter of the beer tent for most of the daylight hours, sipping on wine and watching the people coming and going. I never heard of the first band that played but they were quite good. I had never heard Adam Baldwin play either but I liked what I heard! I love to hear new music and new bands but I was mostly waiting to hear Hey Rosetta, a band I often followed back when I lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland where they got their start on the music scene. I was also looking forward to seeing Sam Roberts again and hearing some of his older hits that always brought back good memories of concerts during the festivals on George St. back in the day when I practically lived and breathed Canada’s party street.
Hey Rosetta have been around since about 2005 but recently, the band has really started getting national recognition. In my opinion (and the opinion of many others), they are probably the best band in Atlantic Canada right now. The band is much like a mini orchestra with a number of various instruments including the violin and cello. Their set that night, as usually, was absolutely flawless. Listening to their music on the car stereo is one thing but hearing these guys live is another! I don’t usually buy merchandise at concerts but I had to have their latest album and it has been the only music coming out of my car stereo since.

By the time Sam Roberts hit the stage, the air had cooled to a more comfortable temperature and we were able to wander over to the front of the stage to get a better view. I am not familiar with a lot of his newer work but I have fond memories of watching him perform his older music at the outdoor festivals on George St. in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He was the headlining act at more than one of those memorable street parties that saw tens of thousands of people congregate on two city blocks to watch bands, drink cheap beer and wander in and out of the dozens of bars and venues that line that street. Back in those days when I was still very much into the party and drinking scene, my friends and I would make our rounds to all our favorite bars (and bars we normally didn’t frequent simply because there was no cover charge during the festivals) and drink our way to the front of the stage where we would take watch the bands perform. Sam Roberts, Blue Rodeo, The Northern Pikes, Trooper…these are just a few of the bands that graced that stage back in those days and the show always went on longer than it was supposed to. Triple encores were not uncommon. With every old favorite performed, that final set brought back many fond memories and I had a chance to hear some of his new work too.

There was opportunity to head downtown to watch a band from back home play in one of the bars but we were just too tired from the long drive and late night that we headed back to the hotel to crash.

The next day, we were not due to board the ferry back to Nova Scotia until late afternoon so we tried our best to make good use of the entire day we had ahead of us – a combination of exploring the little city of Charlottetown and seeing some points of interest outside the city. Instead we got hopelessly lost trying to get out of the city in search of Argyle Shore Provincial Park.
When we finally did find the parl, we were a little disappointed to discover that it was not a sandy beach like we assumed it would be. It was a small rocky beach. That being said, once we got out of the car and roamed around, it was quite beautiful and made for a nice place to relax before heading back to Charlottetown to get something to eat before making our way to the ferry.
Charlottetown is a quaint little city…pardon the clich√© but I am not sure how else to describe it. It’s small, it’s fairly easy to get around and there are nice little parks and a scenic little waterfront. There seemed to be quite a few restaurants to choose from downtown and because we were now pressed for time, we found a parking spot and just picked the closest restaurant to it – St. James Gate Restaurant & Pub. There were tables outside, the menu looked appealing and the prices suited our budget so it was settled. I ordered the Brushetta while my sister ordered the seafood pasta. I know Brushetta is a fairly easy-to-make and widely available appetizer but this Brushetta was made differently from any other I ever tasted – in a very good way! My sister claimed her seafood pasta was also quite delicious and among the top five best seafood pastas she has ever eaten. It’s safe to say that St. James Gate will be my choice restaurant in Charlottetown if I should ever pass through there again.

And so our visit to Charlottetown came to an end and off we went to catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia. First road trip of the season? A great success with many more to come before winter settles upon us once again.

Monday, July 21, 2014

I Compiled a List of the Best of the Best and here is the final List of my Favorite Places

Lingan Wind Farm – In the mid-80’s, a large, unsightly and dirty power generating station was built along the shore of Lingan Bay. Today, that generating station is being phased out and replaced by cleaner energy, including windmills which have already been put up in the area. The Lingan Wind Farm is located along that same shore and a gravel road runs alongside those mills to create a very nice walking trail along the shoreline. I love to walk this trail right to the end where there are old barracks perched near the cliffs and the view is spectacular.
The Road that Passes Through Donkin and Port Morien – I love this drive and it is the one I probably do the most often on my daily coffee run. Shoreline, beaches, scenery, wildlife (I often see bald eagles, deer and foxes along this road), very little traffic and its not very far from where I live. What else could one ask for in a daily coffee run?

The Church in Cheticamp – I’m not religious but I often make a stop at this church on the main road in Cheticamp and its something my family has always done whenever we pass through the community. As a child, my mom always took my sisters and I in there to light a candle at the alter and it was said that if you made a wish on one of those candles, it would come true. I don’t know if it was pure coincidence but some of those wishes did come true. The church is old and beautiful inside and its almost haunting in how quiet it is and how every little sound echoes in the stillness within.

The Walking Track at 14 Yard – To many people, exercise sounds like work but for me, it is a necessity. I exercise everyday. It keeps me healthy and disciplined and reduces stress. My daily 5 kilometer walk ( or job depending on how I am feeling) around the track at 14 yard is my escape. It gets me out of the house and lets me escape for an hour into a world of just me and my music (I bring my ipod along with me). This hour allows me to not only do something healthy, but to think and reorganize my thoughts or just go off into another world with my favorite songs setting the backdrop.

The Canso Causeway – A landmark accomplishment on any road trip; on the way out of Cape Breton, it signifies two hours knocked off the journey and a traditional rest stop at the Big Stop gas station and restaurant. On the way home from any road trip, it signifies that I have reached home. Home is always on the Port Hawkesbury side of the causeway even though my house is actually two more hours of driving. On any particularly long trip, the causeway is a sign that I am on that last homestretch!

St. Ann’s Look-off – Near the top of Kelly’s Mountain on the right side heading west is a rest stop that doubles as a scenic look-off over St. Anne’s Bay. I stop here almost every time I pass through the area to eat lunch and enjoy my coffee while looking out over the scenic view that consists of rolling hills, a large bay and distant fields.

Fort Petrie- located only ten minutes from my home, I often go to Fort Petrie to watch the boats come and go in Sydney Harbour and the sun set over the vast horizon. I often see the Newfoundland ferries heading out to sea and wish I was onboard so I, too, could be headed to The Rock and my former home where many of my friends are still living.

Water St., St. John’s, NL – I love main streets in cities. They are so exciting and colorful. I’ve walked many colorful main streets in many cities around North America but none really compare to the main street in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Water St, is a fairly long and narrow street that runs through the downtown district of the city. With it’s colorful and old buildings, unique local shops, numerous cafes catering to every type of coffee drinker, every type of restaurant and live music venue you can think of, professional and amateur buskers displaying their talent to the masses and tons of little parks and benches to just sit and relax, there is no shortage of action on this street. I love to go down there early in the morning and sit on a bench with my coffee and a book. In the evening, I like to just walk the street listening to the music, people-watching and just enjoying the colorful sights and sounds around me.

Grand Narrows/Iona – For some reason, I don’t travel to this part of Cape Breton as much but it is still one of my favorite areas of the island. While I usually prefer to be near the ocean and mountains, it is nice to be lakeside and in “softer” surroundings once and a while. And besides, the Bras d’Or lakes are much like an ocean in size! I love how quiet this area of the island is and how there are less people wandering about. There are so many places to just sit and relax and not have to worry about there being crowds around. I love the little wharf area in Grand Narrows where there is also a little rocky beach and a dock. Sometimes there are even little country markets where you can buy some fresh produce and homemade sweets and listen to some fiddle music.

The Drive Across Newfoundland – Yes, I know, this is not really a place but it is a route that I often take when traveling from my home in Cape Breton to the city of St. John’s in Newfoundland and each and every trip across (and there have been dozens) has been memorable in one way or another. The drive starts in Port Aux Basques and heads along the Trans Canada heading east. Along the way, there are mountains, small towns and villages, scenic look-offs, valleys, rivers and strange places with interesting stories behind them. Take, for example, the Wreckhouse area. No one lives in this beautiful, barren valley surrounded by mountains and there is a reason for that; its too windy! When the winds in the Wreckhouse area are at their highest, traffic comes to a standstill and anyone brave enough to try and pass through may end up in some trouble. Large transport trucks have been known to be blown over by these winds. I usually take the DRL bus across the island and many interesting stories and memories have come out of those many trips. New friendships, bus breakdowns, broken heaters, lost luggage, drunken and rowdy passengers, off-the-wall conversations with complete strangers, near run-ins with moose and snowstorms are just a few of the interesting things I recall!

The Cabot Trail – Again, not a specific place but a scenic drive…one of the most scenic drives on the planet! And that’s not just my opinion, the trail has been voted as such by many travel publications numerous times over the years. A trip around the trail is one of my favorite things I look forward to in the warmer months. I get up early. Load up the car with lunch and beach supplies and go for the day or overnight depending on how much time I have to work with. I go around via Cheticamp, stopping in Inverness and Margaree along the way and spending some time in the village of Cheticamp. I than make my way over the mountains and through Pleasant Bay and Cape North towards Ingonish where I will, again spend some time at the beaches and hiking trails. The drive is peaceful even when there are many people around. Windy, narrow roads snaking over mountains and through valleys and along rugged coastline. It’s heaven on Earth!

And Finally…My car! – I don’t know what I would do without my 2009 black Sonata. The begin with, it’s everything I wanted in a car. When I went car shopping, I was looking for a spacious, black car with a sunroof and great-sounding stereo. The first car I eyed was the one I ended up buying. It had those things and more. Of course, I was smart about it and test drove some other cars around the city but I came back for this one. I took it on a long road trip the first weekend I had it and it met all my standards. Good handling, no weird noises, comfortable…Now it’s my sanctuary. It not only gets me to work and back every day, it gets me out of the house when I am tired of sitting around in one place, it takes me to all my favorite places and beyond and it is where I retreat to when I am having a bad day. I just get behind the wheel, crank the stereo with my favorite tunes and drive off into the unknown and that is my cure-all for any bad day!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Apparently I have a lot of Favorite Places...Here are some more of them!

North River Falls – I always wanted to hike to North River Falls, the tallest waterfalls in Nova Scotia, but the 20-kilometer return hike had me procrastinating for years. I finally decided to do that hike a couple of years ago and it was worth the hike. After dodging fallen trees, dilapidated foot bridges, washed out paths and numerous other obstacles, I finally made it to the falls and what a sight to behold! A raging, cascading waterfall falling into a crystal clear pool surrounded by nothing but forest and wilderness…and I had that all to myself because not many people are willing to do that long, hard hike!
That “spot” in the Grand Canyon that hardly Anyone gets to see – The Grand Canyon has always been close to the top of my bucket list and I finally had the chance to see it in the spring of 2009. Nothing prepared me for the surprise that awaited me during the guided tour I took to the Canyon. I usually hate guided tours but, since it was my first time traveling in the area, I thought it would be fitting to go with someone who knew their way around. The tour left early in the morning and made the typical stops at attractions along the way; the Hoover Dam, Joshua Tree National Park, Lake Mead. While at the Grand Canyon, I embarked on a helicopter ride to the bottom and a pontoon boat ride along the Colorado River. While these aspects of the tour were amazing, it was what came next that really made me happy I took that tour. When the group met back at the bus, our tour guide gave us two options to pick from; we could pay an extra 30 dollars and do the touristy skywalk or we could get back in the bus and go somewhere that only a few tour operators were allowed to go, a place that was gated off and in a secluded area of the park. Fortunately for me, because I had no interest in waiting in line to do the skywalk, everyone voted for the second option. Remote, quiet, wild, lonely, incredible, out-of –this-world…that is just some of the words that can be used to describe that place and that view.
The Drive Along the North Shore – Just knowing that I will going to Ingonish is enough to make me happy but I also look forward to the nice drive there, in particular the section of the route that passes along an area known as the North Shore which runs from the Englishtown Ferry to Cape Smokey Mountain. The windy and often deserted road passes through an area that is home to old farmhouses surrounded by forest, large fields, distant mountains and ocean. The drive takes about 40 minutes and along the way, I like to stop at the various resting places to admire the view, have lunch or just relax in the peaceful surroundings. I often see wildlife in the early morning or evening hours and the night sky is so visible on clear nights because there are no lights to obscure it.

Mira Gut Beach – As a child, my parents took me to this beach almost every weekend in the summer. We left early in the morning and stayed until the sun went down. We swam, we sunbathed, we had picnics and we had bonfires. We were even asked to be in a music video that was being filmed on the beach one day! There are two sections of the beach; a long sandy one with less crowds and a more crowded smaller area on the other side of the breakwater. A bridge separates the gut from the opening of the Mira River and on the other side of that bridge, there is a swimming area as well. We spent most of our days on the long, sandy beach area and migrated to the river bank at night to have a fire. When I got older, I spent a lot of time on the other side of the breakwater where, over the years due to people moving away for work, the crowds got smaller and a bald eagle perched on the edge of the breakwater every evening.

Freshwater Lake – Ingonish Beach is one of the most popular beaches on Cape Breton Island and one of the reasons it is so popular is because there is so much to do there. There is a long, sandy beach, a freshwater lake and a hiking trail to name a few things. Freshwater Lake, in particular, is one of my favorite places on the whole island. When I am staying in Ingonish, I wake up early, grab a coffee at the Bean Barn and drive to the lake area. I take my place in the sand or on a nearby picnic table and watch the sun come up over Cape Smokey Mountain. It is so quiet there first thing in the morning and the sounds of the ocean on one side and the deep woods on the other make for a great start to the day.

That Sandwich bar at Pearson International Airport – Almost every trip I take via plane includes a long layover at Pearson International and I hate that place with a passion. Long lineups, poor signage, rude employees who hate giving directions…and the list goes on and on. However, amidst the chaos that is Pearson, I once found a little sanctuary that I now retreat to every time I am there. It is a little sandwich bar (I can never seem to remember the name of it) with a quiet and relaxing ambiance and the best veggies sandwiches I have ever eaten!

My bike route along the shore – I have a bike and although I don’t really have the time these days to ride it much, I do, from time to time, go for a ride on warm summer mornings or afternoons on the weekends. And I always take the same route from my house in Lingan along the shore to the lighthouse in New Victoria. I love this route especially in the summer when the sounds of children playing and softball games at the field I drive by and the smell of barbecues fill the air. I try to stick to the roads that are close to the shoreline so I can watch the sea with all the ferries and fishing boats coming and going.
The Rocky Beach in the Little Village where my Mom Grew up – At the end of a road at the edge of Cheticamp in Northern Cape Breton is a long, rocky beach. I first went there as a child when my mom took me there every summer to spend time in the place where she grew up. She always told me stories about how she used to play on that beach as a child. Now that she is gone, that place means so much more to me. I feel like her spirit lingers in that area she cherished so much. Whenever I’m in Cheticamp, I take my coffee to the parking lot above the beach and sit for hours, just watching the waves roll in and imagining my mom there as a child. Sometimes I walk the beach and I am always the only person there which makes it even better.

The Lonely roads of Mira at night – One of my favorite places to drive at night is Mira. Those lonely, deserted, dark roads through dense forest areas and small villages are almost spooky at night. The stars are always brightest out there where there is no light pollution and the foxes, deer and raccoons are on the prowl. If it is nice enough, I stop at Mira Gut and sit on the beach and watch the night sky for a while before continuing on my way.

Squeaker’s Hole – At the far end of the parking lot at Black Beach near the village of Ingonish in the Cape Breton Highlands is the entrance to a short walking trail. This walking trail leads hikers to a place called Squeaker’s Hole and a place where I spent much of my time over the years. The trail snakes off into two directions at one point; one trail leads to the bottom of Sqeaker’s Hole and the other leads to the top. Some days I will hike to the bottom where I can swim out to a rock in the middle of the little cove and watch the rough seas churn around me. Other days, I will hike to the top where I can sit on the side of the cliffs and sunbathe, read a book or just relax to the sounds of the birds, the sea and the other natural sounds around me.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Some More of my Favorite Place Near and Far

Baddeck Boardwalk – It doesn’t matter where I’m going – around the Cabot Trail, to Halifax or just for a drive along the Trans-Canada Highway – I always stop in Baddeck, even if it is just for five minutes. One of the things I like to do when I stop in the little village is grab a coffee and drink it on the boardwalk that lines a part of the harbor. I can sit there and kick my feet in the water and watch all those luxurious yachts float by and wonder what famous person might be enjoying some time away from the limelight in the peace and tranquility of little Baddeck where no one realizes who they are or pays any attention to them.
The Driveway at Anamaya – I’ve only been there once and may never be there again but I will always remember going for my nightly strolls down the driveway to Anamaya Yoga Retreat in Montezuma, Costa Rica, a place I had the opportunity to stay at for a week last year. The reason I loved taking this stroll every evening before bed? The calm, warm, tropical air, the sights and sounds of exotic animals and insects going about their nocturnal business and the quiet and peaceful atmosphere that was only compromised by the distant sound of the waves crashing on the Pacific coast below.
The Drive over Cape Smokey Mountain – I spend most of my summer in Ingonish, Cape Breton so I’ve driven over Cape Smokey hundreds of times. I often hear stories of tourists hiring local drivers to take them over the mountain because they find the hairpin turns and high cliffs terrifyingly dangerous and I often take people over that mountain because I know that road like the back of my hand. I’ve driven it in the winter, in thick fog, in heavy rains, in thunder storms and on clear summer days. I’ve driven it in the morning and in the dead of night. Every trip is different and I never get sick of that view from the top, no matter which way I look!

The Skyline Trail – I drove past this hiking trail hundreds of times before I decided to hike it myself…and I am glad I finally did! Nature, scenery, wildlife – this trail has it all and the best part of it is the end where the sea meets the sky and a boardwalk spirals downward toward the rocky coastline where whales can be seen frolicking in the surf below. I can sit there until the sun goes down and what a sight it is to see a sunset from that place!

The St. John’s Battery – Right at the bottom of Signal Hill at the end of the trail and right before you enter the little village at The Battery are some old army barracks. The barracks cannot be entered but there is a little hill right beside it that leads to the top of the small building and a flat concrete surface. When I lived in the city, every morning before the sun came up, I started the walk around that trail and rested in that spot to watch the sun come up and the boats come and go through the narrows. Some evenings I went there to watch the sun go down or just admire the spectacular view of the city at night with its distant city sounds - so close but yet so far away.

The Joseph and Clara Smallwood ferry – This ferry is no longer in operation, I made the crossing between North Sydney to Argentia, Newfoundland at least a hundred times over the years. Although I may have sometimes dreaded impending trips across The Gulf, looking back, I have very fond memories of some of those eventful crossings. Impromptu bands made up of traveling musicians from all around the world getting together for jam sessions in the bar, last minute excursions across “just for something to do”, card games with new friends made in the cafeteria area, long talks with complete strangers on the outside deck and even life-long friendships made simply by being stuck on a ship together for all those hours and having nothing else to do! Sometimes the seas were rough and I would retreat to “my spot” on the seventh deck – a reclining chair in the Baccalieu lounge, way back in the corner away from everyone else and in view of the TV in case I wanted to watch whatever was on.
Corner of Bond and Prescott, St. John’s – I moved away from home for the first time when I was 19 and made my new home in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Although I had several apartments during the twelve years I lived in the city, the last one I lived in is the one I will always remember the most. With so many run-down, outdated and expensive apartments around, I was lucky to find this near-perfect gem at a decent price and in a good neighborhood that was close to everything. The apartment was located right downtown but far enough from the main roads to be surprisingly quiet. It was only a short walk from my work and all the other services I needed. It had been just renovated right before I moved in. It had wood floors (I hate carpet). It was high off the ground on the third floor of a house that was at the end of row of attached houses which meant I didn’t have to worry about floods or dampness. And it had a spectacular view of the downtown area and the harbor which allowed me to watch the sun come up over Signal Hill and the boats come and go.
Black Brook Beach – I visited this beach with friends many years ago and have been returning every summer since. It is one of my favorite beaches on all of Cape Breton Island. When I was younger, I loved the main part of the beach where the waves are quite large and all the young people tend to congregate. As I got older, I started to migrate to the lesser used side of the beach where the waves are smaller, the water is calmer and there are less people. This beach has everything; several hiking trails, some look-offs, picnic areas, a waterfall, freshwater swimming area and a beach with warm water, lots and sand and hardly any jellyfish!

Jasper National Park, Alberta – The Rocky Mountains were something to see for sure but it was Jasper National Park that won my heart in the end. In comparison to the other mountain towns in the Rockies, Jasper was more to my expectations in terms of ruggedness, untouched beauty, nature and wildlife. The lodge was exactly how I pictured a Rocky Mountain Lodge to be and that fresh, mountain air made me feel so alive and in touch with my surroundings.
Gampo Abbey Monastery – I heard this place existed but no one ever seemed to know where it was located. I found it one day quite by accident when I decided to drive down a road I had never been down before. I was driving through Pleasant Bay in Northern Cape Breton when I noticed a sign for Red River Road. It looked vaguely interesting and I had some time to kill so, out of curiosity, I turned down. I passed over a small bridge and continued on a windy, country road that soon turned into a gravel road that ran between some rolling hills and the ocean. I soon realized what the road led to when I happened upon a Buddhist shrine on the left-hand side of the road. Not much further passed that was a small parking lot. I parked the car and wandered around and found a little trail that went into a wooded area along a little brook. Little Buddha statues were scattered around the area and I soon happened upon the monastery itself; a simple facility right on the water. The area was so peaceful and immersed in nature that I could see why the area was picked for the sight of a Buddhist monastery.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Favorite Travel Quotes of all Time

So, I’ve heard people love reading inspirational quotes. I do too but I particularly like the ones that inspire people to travel and see the world. I like these quotes so much that I compiled a list of my favorite ones to share with anyone who needs a little bit of travel inspiration…that can also be applied to daily living!

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” – John le Carre

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness" - Mark Twain

“‘I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless, it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.’” ~Louis C.K.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”. - Saint Augustine

“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad”. - George Bernard Shaw

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”. - Aldous Huxley

“If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears”. - Cesare Pavese

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not”. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls”. - Anais Nin

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow”. - Lin Yutang

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends”. - Maya Angelou

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move”.- Robert Louis Stevenson

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”. - Gilbert K. Chesterton

“Not all those who wander are lost.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” - Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” - Ernest Hemingway

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” - Isabelle Eberhardt

“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” - David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.” - Judith Thurman

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” - Gustave Flaubert

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
― Mary Anne Radmacher

“to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice.” - Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” - Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars...” - Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” – Samuel Johnson

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” – Robert Frost

“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.” – Charles Dudley Warner

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T. S. Eliot

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca
“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya Stark

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” – John A. Shedd

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” – John Hope Franklin

“You lose sight of things… and when you travel, everything balances out.” – Daranna Gidel

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” – Rosalia de Castro

“I think that travel comes from some deep urge to see the world, like the urge that brings up a worm in an Irish bog to see the moon when it is full.” – Lord Dunsany

“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.” – Daniel J. Boorstin

“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” – Hilaire Belloc

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. ” – Anatole France

“I am a passionate traveler, and from the time I was a child, travel formed me as much as my formal education.” – David Rockefeller

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least

“To get away from one’s working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one’s self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change.” – Charles Horton Cooley

“Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness.” – Ray Bradbury

“After a lifetime of world travel I’ve been fascinated that those in the third world don’t have the same perception of reality that we do.” – Jim Harrison

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” – Danny Kaye

“Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.” – Thomas Fuller

“Too often. . .I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” – Louis L’Amour

“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” – Mohammed

“The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them.” – Amelia E. Barr

“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

“There is no happiness for the person who does not travel. For Indra is the friend of the traveler, therefore wander!” – Br√§hmann

“You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you with yourself.” – Ella Maillart

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – Andre Gide

“People who don’t travel cannot have a global view, all they see is what’s in front of them. Those people cannot accept new things because all they know is where they live.” – Martin Yan

“A tourist is a fellow who drives thousands of miles so he can be photographed standing in front of his car.” – Emile Ganest

“Just to travel is rather boring, but to travel with a purpose is educational and exciting.” – Sargent Shriver

“To many people holidays are not voyages of discovery, but a ritual of reassurance.” – Philip Andrew Adams

“Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” – Ralph Crawshaw

“A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place….” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.” – Steve McQueen

“Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes.” – Robin Leach

“Adventure without risk is Disneyland.” – Doug Coupland

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other.” – Norma Shearer

“Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure.” – Irving Wallace

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” – Charles Kuralt

“While armchair travelers dream of going places, traveling armchairs dream of staying put.” – Anne Tyler

“People don’t take trips . . . trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

“The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” – Shirley MacLaine

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” – Chief Seattle

“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.” – St. Augustine

“There is one voyage, the first, the last, the only one.” – Thomas Wolfe

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends… The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Part 2 - Some more of my Favorite Places

A couple of weeks ago, I began writing a post about some of my favorite places on earth and realized that they would not all fit into that one blog post that I posted...so here the continuation of that list!

Mary Anne Falls – Two fairly large waterfalls, one on top of the other, located high up in the mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and surrounded by trees, a crystal clear brook and pure, pristine nature. What is there not to like? During week days in the summer, when everyone is still at work and I know there will not be a lot of people around, I make that slow, steep drive up to the falls and spend the entire afternoon there. I relax on some rocks with the sound of the falls lulling me to semi-unconsciousness. I swim in the cold, deep waters of the pool below the falls. I hike to the look-off that overlooks the falls. I walk along the brook, deep into the forest and just enjoy the quiet and peaceful surroundings of this almost untouched area of the park…and it really is like heaven on earth!

Blacketts Lake – I don’t actually hang out at Blacketts Lake, I drive around it. It’s one of my favorite coffee routes when I am in the Sydney area and, although it is a fairly short drive, there is hardly ever any traffic, the area is scenic and, at night, there are hardly any lights which makes it a great little drive on a clear night when the stars are out or there is a full moon.

Lot 87 at Broad Cove Campground – My family has been camping at Broad Cove campground in Ingonish for many years. I discovered Lot 87 one of the first times I started camping on my own and it has become my home-away-from-home. The lot is close to everything I need at the campground in an area where there are usually other campers nearby so I am not completely alone. The lot has a picnic table and two trees spaced perfectly apart to allow me to rig a clothes line and the public fire pits are only a few yards away which means I can hear the happy sounds of people singing campfire songs and smell marshmallows roasting through the evening.
Playa Santa Fe – I love to get lost and this beach is one example why I love getting lost. Some of the best places I have found while traveling were found after I had lost my way, including Playa Santa Fe. I found this beach quite by accident when I took a wrong turn while walking around the Mayan Ruins in Tulum, Mexico. Giant sand dunes, palm trees, turquoise water and a long, stretch of soft, white sand that went on for what looked like miles. What else could I ask for? Seclusion? Yup, it had that too…I was the only person on the beach! And, oh yeah, there was a small hut hidden in between a couple of giant dunes with a friendly local serving chilled Cerveza.

Signal Hill – I didn’t know anyone when I first moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Fortunately, I had a car and was able to provide myself with some entertainment during those first lonely days in the city. I drove for hours, trying to learn my way around the city and, in the process, found a great place not far from my apartment to just hang out and get out of the house. Signal Hill is known as a popular meeting place for locals but for me, it was an escape. I went there to admire the spectacular view of the city from high atop that hill or to gaze out into the vast ocean on the other side. I could park there for hours just people-watching and listening to the distant sounds of the city below.
The Lone Sheiling – I first experienced The Lone Sheiling when I was a child but it was after I started exploring Cape Breton on my own that I really felt a connection to the place. The Lone Sheiling is more than just a little hut on the side of the highway. There is a short walking trail that winds down into a little valley where some of the tallest and most beautiful trees create an almost fairy-tale-like atmosphere. The very green and lush forest is alive with plant life and little critters scurrying around and a brook runs through the area and makes for the perfect place to relax with my feet in the water and not a soul around to bother me.

Death Valley National Park – Desolate, quiet, vast, sunny and insanely hot. Most people would probably think I’m crazy to have fallen in love with such an unforgiving landscape but there was just something about Death Valley that had me awestruck. Perhaps it is because it’s so vastly different from the landscape that I am used to back home in Canada or maybe it was that surreal feeling I got while driving along those lonely roads through an area of North America made famous in so many movies and so many real life events…some of them quite notorious.
The corner of Lingan Rd. and Lingan Beach Rd – My old house. I lived there from the time I was 5 until I was 20. I moved out and returned when I was 32 and lived there for another year and a half. I still drive passed it everyday but another family lives there now so I can’t actually go on the property and wander around like I once did. Now, I can only admire it from the road as I drive by or visit it in my dreams. I spent the best childhood any kid could ask for in that house and the surrounding property. There were woods, gardens, tree houses, a huge front and back yard and a hill in front that we used to sleigh down. The house itself is large but cozy and, although the new owners have no doubt changed the interior, I will always remember it the way it was.

Quidi Vidi Village – This tiny little village tucked away in a little corner of the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland was one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon when I lived there…and is still one of my favorite places to visit when I happen to be in town. Colorful little houses along the water, boats lining the small harbour and coming and going throughout the day, a walking trail that runs along the scenic coast and a little rocky beach that no one seems to know about where I can lay in the sun with a book and the sounds of the ocean. The best thing about Quidi Vidi Village is it seems like you are in the middle of nowhere when you are there. It looks like a typical outport town in rural Newfoundland except it is in the middle of a capital city!

Kidston Island – Or the “island within an island” as I like to call it, is located just a little ways offshore from the village of Baddeck in central Cape Breton. I liken this place to being shipwrecked on a deserted island. After the little shuttle ferry drops me off at the island, I am quite literally stranded (well, until the boat comes back a few hours later but it’s nice to pretend!) and I usually have the island to myself except for a few people on the little stretch of beach. I hike the trail that winds all around the island and relax on the benches that overlook Baddeck Bay where Bald Eagles are often spotted and beautiful yachts float around the harbour. I like to wonder who is in those yachts as, rumor has it, quite a few Hollywood celebrities travel to Baddeck to get away from their hectic lives in the spotlight.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The True Meaning of Pura Vida

I opened my inbox one day to find an email with a peculiar subject line. "Congratulations, you have won a trip to Anamaya Yoga Retreat in sunny Costa Rica". I promptly deleted it but a nagging feeling prompted me to retrieve that email and read it again to be sure it was, in fact, just another scam. Four months after I reread that email, I boarded a plane for San Jose, Costa Rica. A long drive through the countryside that led to a ferry that took me across the gulf of Nicoya and onto the small Pacific Coast village of Montezuma was the beginning of an unforgettable journey…one that taught me an important lesson in life and in living it to the fullest.

There wasn’t much going on at Anamaya Yoga Retreat on my 4th day in Montezuma, Costa Rica. I developed a routine of waking early, watching the sunset, reading in the hammock, taking a dip in the infinity pool and checking emails all before breakfast was even served. On this day, I decided to break the routine and do something a little different. I didn’t want to waste the day sitting by the pool so I strolled down the hill into the village and spent the day exploring the little streets and surf shops and enjoying the beach. The village had so much energetic ambiance. Smiling, energetic people of all walks of life, embracing the day and one another. I can still feel that ambiance now if I close my eyes and bring myself back there.
It was the hottest morning in Montezuma since I’d arrived and the walk down the hill was torture. I was only half way down the hill when a young man on a motorbike stopped. “Senorita, I take you to bottom of the hill if you like.” He was wearing a nice shirt and khaki shorts which gave him an air of coolness and confidence - like he often picked up strange women who were about to pass out while walking down that hill. I usually don’t take rides from strangers but I didn’t think I was going to make it any further without collapsing. I took him up on his offer and a few minutes later he dropped me off at the beach. With a wave and a friendly “Buenos dias”, he sped off.

I walked a few feet to the beach and plopped myself down in the sand in a shaded area and relaxed for a bit. A storm had passed near Montezuma the previous night and the water was extremely rough. I tried to go for a swim but the waves were too powerful and the undertow too dangerous. The smell of Cerviche and Empanadas in the restaurant a few meters away filled the air. The sounds of palm trees rustling in the gentle breeze and locals and tourists going about their daily business lulled me. A dog chased a stick nearby while some children egged him on. A stray cat sat near a food cart, waiting for a hand-out. The rhythmic sound of the waves coming ashore, like a lullaby, gently rocked me to sleep.

Shouting zapped me out of my trance to see people on the beach pointing to something in the water; some brave, fool-hardy surfers were attempting to surf dangerously rough waters close to some jagged rocks. It looked like the scene might end in tragedy but, fortunately, the surfers made it safely to shore. Welcome to Costa Rica – home of adventure seekers, lovers of life and daredevils!

By late-morning, the heat was really getting to me and I started to feel dehydrated. I was craving a refreshing fruit smoothie but didn’t want to pay the going rate of about 7 dollars for one at a tourist trap. So off I went, up and down those little streets, in search of a reasonably-priced smoothie. At the end of a side street, I noticed an interestingly-decorated, outdoor smoothie bar. The thatched-roof and colorful plants sprouting from the walls caught my eye. It looked like just my kind of place!

A free-spirited and friendly, young man was eager to take on the challenge of making me something that was refreshing but not-too-sweet. It took a long time for him to make it as he carefully thought out each ingredient and made sure it was mixed to perfection by allowing me to taste it at intervals. After some mixing and shaking and adding of various exotic fruit, some of which I never heard of, he placed his finished masterpiece before me. For the price of 3 dollars, I received a delicious, orange-colored smoothie in a massive glass.

I stayed at the bar and took a seat. “So, are you from around here?” I asked him. “Yes, born and raised in Costa Rica, just down the road a little bit.” He obviously loved his life in Montezuma and at one point, he asked if I knew what "Pura Vida" meant. To me "Pura Vida" meant The Pure Life and it was what I had witnessed over and over again while traveling through the country. Natural, untouched, simple and pure. He went on to explain it in more depth for me. “That is how most people interpret it. You see, 'Pura Vida' can be a greeting, a state of mind, a way of life. You meet someone walking down the street, you say 'Pura Vida'. You catch the perfect wave while surfing, you say 'Pura Vida'. You have a wonderful day, instead of saying goodnight, you say 'Pura Vida'. You find a great smoothie bar while walking the streets of Montezuma, you say 'this is Pura Vida'. It can mean anything but always something good. Anytime something good happens, “Pura Vida” is the appropriate thing to say.” Made sense to me. How can you not be living the “Pura Vida” in a country that is considered to be one of the happiest in the world according to the Happy Planet Index?

It was mid-afternoon when I started walking up that steep hill to Anamaya. I made it to the top without collapsing in the ditch. There was still enough daylight left to hike to Montezuma Falls. I had gone there the day before and chickened out of jumping off the falls into the pool below but now I was determined not to leave Costa Rica without taking that plunge.
The path to the falls was steep and rocky. I stopped to take a rest mid-way down the trail and that is when I became fully aware of my surroundings. The growling of nearby howler monkeys, the buzz of millions of tropical insects, the sound of the distant waves crashing onto the beach below, the trees rustling in the gentle breeze. The rainforest sounded so alive. It was like the forest itself was living and breathing.
I made it to the waterfalls and again, paused to take in the beautiful sight before me. Beautiful, cascading water falling into a crystal clear, blue pool beneath a canopy of thick rainforest. Before I could talk myself out of it again, I took the leap into the clear, refreshing water. If there is one thing I absolutely hate, it is missed opportunity. I take every chance that comes my way because, sometimes, you only get one chance to do something. And to think, if I had not listened to that little voice in my head telling me to read that email again, I would have missed out on the time of my life and would never know what it is like to live the Pura Vida.

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